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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.


Happy Birthday, Fred MacMurray!


With his first credited film appearance in 1935’s Grand Old Girl, it didn’t take long before Frederick Martin MacMurray—born in Kankakee, IL on this date in 1908—became one of the silver screen’s most personable motion picture stars.  Fred MacMurray specialized in romantic leads, notably in such screwball comedies as The Gilded Lily (1935) and Too Many Husbands (1940) …but he also received opportunities to extend his acting range with darker performances in the likes of Double Indemnity (1944).  When MacMurray began to age out of playing leading men, he continued his career as the easily recognizable Dad in both a slew of Walt Disney comedies and a long-running television sitcom, My Three Sons.

youngfredFred MacMurray may not have had a lot of acting experience when he started out in pictures…but show business undeniably ran through the family bloodline; young Fred was born in Kankakee while his concert violinist father was on tour.  (MacMurray’s aunt was actress Fay Holderness, who had performed in vaudeville.)  Both of his parents were Wisconsin natives, and when Fred was two, the family moved back to the Badger State, settling in Madison and then Beaver Dam (the place of his mother’s birth).  Pa and Ma MacMurray separated when Fred was only five, and some have speculated that the experience encouraged him to become a model father (both off and onscreen) in later years.  He graduated from high school with an impressive record in athletics, and an American Legion scholarship paved the way for his enrollment at Waukesha’s Carroll College.

MacMurray never graduated from Carroll, however.  His interest in the saxophone at an early age had grown by leaps and bounds as he got older, and while attending college he started his own three-piece ensemble, Mac’s Melody Boys.  Music eventually become Fred’s main interest, and over the years he did quite a bit of sax-wailing in dance and vaudeville bands across the country.  Arriving on the West Coast, he joined up with an aggregation known as the California Collegians; they performed extensively in vaudeville until they were asked to appear in a 1930 Broadway revue entitled Three’s a Crowd.  (That show featured Libby Holman, Clifton Webb…and some comic named Fred Allen.)  The Collegians were also featured in the 1933-34 Broadway hit Roberta as the band for “Huckleberry Haines”—played by none other than Bob Hope.

fredclaudetteThough Fred MacMurray had appeared in extra and bit roles in movies before signing a seven-year contract with Paramount, it was The Gilded Lily that made him a performer to watch.  His co-stars in that film were Ray Milland (also a Paramount newcomer) and Claudette Colbert—Colbert would eventually become MacMurray’s most frequent leading lady, appearing with him in six additional feature films: The Bride Comes Home (1935), Maid of Salem (1937), No Time for Love (1943), Practically Yours (1944), The Egg and I (1947), and Family Honeymoon (1948).  In addition, Fred made four films with Carole Lombard: Hands Across the Table (1935), The Princess Comes Across (1936), Swing High, Swing Low (1937), and True Confession (1937).  Other silver screen favorites to appear alongside MacMurray include Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams), Marlene Dietrich (The Lady is Willing), Rosalind Russell (Take a Letter, Darling), and Joan Crawford (Above Suspicion).

doubleindemnityBy 1943, Fred MacMurray was one of the motion picture industry’s highest-paid actors (he cleared $420,000 that year, making him the fourth highest-paid American).  Typecast in “nice guy” roles, it was writer-director Billy Wilder who decided to besmirch Fred’s clean-cut image by choosing him to play insurance agent Walter Neff in Double Indemnity (1944), a film noir classic in which he helps murder Barbara Stanwyck’s husband so she can collect the insurance.  Indemnity provided a much-needed dimension to MacMurray’s acting, and Wilder would call upon him again in 1960, making him an even bigger scoundrel as the unscrupulous Jeff Sheldrake in the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, The Apartment.  Those two performances, as well as villainous turns in Pushover (1954) and The Caine Mutiny (1954), clearly showed that Fred had far more depth as an actor than his previous roles had allowed him to demonstrate.

fredradioAt the height of his movie fame, Fred MacMurray often promoted his films through the medium of radio.  He made the rounds on many an anthology series, among them Family Theatre, The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, Hallmark Playhouse, The Lux Radio Theatre, and Screen Director’s Playhouse.  MacMurray guested on the likes of Hollywood Hotel and Suspense; joshed with Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, and Martin & Lewis; and did his bit for the war effort on Command Performance, G.I. Journal, and Mail Call.  Fred’s most notable radio success was a syndicated series, Bright Star, in which he and Irene Dunne (who had appeared opposite MacMurray in Invitation to Happiness [1939] and Never a Dull Moment [1950]) starred.  Dunne was Susan Armstrong, the owner and editor of the fictional Hillside Morning Star, while Fred played her ace reporter George Harvey.  The 1952-53 series centered around Susan’s struggles to keep the newspaper going, and included Elvia Allman (as Susan’s housekeeper) and announcer Harry von Zell in the cast.

shaggydogAs the 1950s came to a close, good roles came few and far between for Fred.  He started to become a fixture in Westerns, like Day of the Badman (1958) and Good Day for a Hanging (1959).  A modest little comedy film from the Walt Disney Studios would prove to be the career reboot that he needed.  Though he resisted appearing in The Shaggy Dog (1959) at first, the movie became one of that year’s biggest box office hits, and led to additional Disney work in vehicles like The Absent-Minded Professor (1961—and its sequel, 1963’s Son of Flubber), The Happiest Millionaire (1967), and Charley and the Angel (1972).  Curiously, Disney had originally pitched The Shaggy Dog as an idea for a series to ABC (who wanted the studio to duplicate its small screen success with Disneyland and Zorro), but the network nixed the idea.  Still, Shaggy Dog would be a springboard for a successful situation comedy that premiered on that same network in the fall of 1960.

sonsOn the television sitcom My Three Sons, Fred essayed the role of Steve Douglas, a widower trying to bring up his three kids (Tim Considine, Don Grady, Stanley Livingston) with the help of grandfather Michael Francis “Bub” O’Casey (William Frawley).  Movie actors still shunned TV at this time, but what sold MacMurray on the series was the working conditions: he was only required to work 65 days a year, a practice that soon became known in the industry as “the MacMurray method.”  All Fred had to do was change his cardigan for each scene shot in that time frame…and even then, a few of the show’s episodes featured him “away on business.”  The show was a big hit for ABC, and when the network couldn’t commit to filming the show in color after five seasons, Sons moved to CBS for an additional seven years.  (There were a slew of casting adds and deletions along the way, too.)

20263After My Three Sons came to an end, Fred MacMurray appeared in only a handful of films and TV movies before deciding that he’d had enough (his final performance was in 1978’s The Swarm, a picture that should have killed the careers of everyone involved).  He once described himself as being “lazy in spurts—I’d as soon go fishing or play golf.”  That’s how he lived out his retirement (he also liked painting and cooking) until his passing in 1991 at the age of 83.  To celebrate Fred’s birthday, Radio Spirits encourages you to check out The Funny Fifties, a superb collection of Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy) shows that features an October 18, 1953 broadcast with our birthday boy and Anita Gordon.  Mr. MacMurray’s signature series, Bright Star, is also available in a 4-CD set containing eight vintage shows.

Happy Birthday, Lesley Woods!


Actress Lesley Woods is described in author Jim Cox’s compendium The Great Radio Soap Operas as someone who “made a career out of playing mean-spirited first wives” in the world of daytime drama.  Woods would later earn a long list of soap opera credits on the small screen as well…yet to limit her as a performer on the “weepies” would overlook her work on such shows as Boston Blackie and Casey, Crime Photographer.  She was born in Berwick, IA on this date in 1910.

woods9A graduate of Chicago’s Goodman School of Drama, Lesley Woods set her sights on stage acting upon completion of her courses…and immediately found work in summer theatre, where her duties ranged from shifting scenery to taking over as leading lady (when the star of one production suffered a fainting spell due to the heat).  Woods moved on to a stock company in Michigan, gaining more experience in both bit parts and meatier ingénue roles…and again, filling in for those who did not believe “the show must go on” in spite of illness.  When her stint with the stock company ended, Lesley had planned to return to Chicago, but two other members from that company convinced her to move to New York.

Despite her acting experience, Woods found it rough going in the Big Apple.  Many producers would tell her at auditions, “You’re not the right type.”  But her perseverance paid off; she appeared in a Theatre Guild production of Love is Not Simple, and won roles in both Broadway’s Double Dummy (1936, produced by Mark Hellinger), and Excursion (1937).  In between her stage work, Lesley toiled as both a model and clerk for a number of stores along Fifth Avenue as well as posing for photographers and appearing in movie shorts.  Her later Broadway appearances include Comes the Revelation (1942), The Assassin (1945), Advise and Consent (1960), and A Case of Libel (1963).

CBS RadioA decision to return to Chicago for a brief vacation would provide the impetus to change Lesley Woods’ career direction…since an empty pocketbook often seemed to be an accessory to her fabulous young actress wardrobe.  While attending a party, at which a number of radio thespians were in attendance, Lesley received a suggestion that she, too, “take a crack” at acting in the aural medium.  Casting directors would soon learn that while Lesley may not have been “the right type” for stage work, her technique was just right for radio.  Woods extended her vacation in the Windy City for two years, where she worked on such series as The First Nighter Program and The Wayside Theatre.  It was at this time that she also found steady work in daytime dramas as well.

woods3Lesley emoted on the likes of The Guiding Light (as Helene Cunningham), Road to Life (Carol Evans Brent), Woman in White (Janet Munson Adams), Midstream (Meredith Conway), Backstage Wife (Maida), Bright Horizon (as both Rosie and Margaret Anderson McCarey), The Romance of Helen Trent (Tember Adams), Rosemary (Audrey Roberts), This is Nora Drake (Peggy Martinson), We Love and Learn (Mickey), Joyce Jordan, Girl Interne (Margot Sherwood—this was before Joyce became an M.D.), The Man I Married (Evelyn Waring), and Portia Faces Life (Elaine Arden).  The Great Radio Soap Operas credits Woods with fifteen daytime dramas, and that doesn’t even take into consideration appearances on non-soap opera programs such as Bulldog Drummond, The Chase, Crime and Peter Chambers, Dimension X, The Falcon, Gangbusters, Inner Sanctum, It Can Be Done, The Molle Mystery Theatre, Murder by Experts, The Mysterious Traveler, The Private Files of Rex Saunders, Suspense, This is Your FBI, Treasury Star Parade, Words at War, and You Are There.

woods21946 was a particularly prolific time for Lesley Woods; she was, as described by author Cox, “the girlfriend-confidante-accomplice of a trio of radio sleuths.”  On Boston Blackie, she was the detective’s gal Friday Mary Wesley.  She appeared for one season on The Shadow as “the only person who knows to whom the voice of the invisible Shadow belongs”—the lovely Margo Lane.  And in the summer of 1946, Woods hung out in the dive known as The Blue Note for a brief time as reporter Ann Williams, gal pal to Casey, Crime Photographer.  Lesley’s commitment to radio drama would extend to appearances on programs that attempted to revive the medium’s Golden Age, including 60s shows like Theater Five and efforts in the 1970s like The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre and The Mutual/Sears Radio Theatre.

woods7Lesley Woods’ attempt to make inroads into television hit a small snag when she was listed among many of her fellow radio performers in the notorious publication Red Channels, which was responsible for the “blacklisting” of artists due to their political affiliations.  Yet Lesley would overcome this setback, and began appearing on as many daytime television soaps as she had in her radio days.  A list of her small screen appearances in the afternoons would include Young Dr. Malone, The Edge of Night, A Flame in the Wind, The Nurses, Search for Tomorrow, The Secret Storm, Bright Promise, General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, All My Children, and The Bold and the Beautiful.  Her boob tube resume also includes guest star roles in a number of TV favorites: The Real McCoys, Daniel Boone, Bonanza, The F.B.I., and The Rockford Files.  In addition, Woods made the rounds on nighttime soaps like Dallas, Family and Knots Landing; she had recurring roles on Falcon Crest (as housekeeper Mrs. Miller) and L.A. Law before her passing in 2003 at the age of 92 (a little over two weeks’ shy of her 93rd birthday).

21173Radio Spirits has a fistful of collections spotlighting Lesley Woods’ signature radio roles.  She can be heard on Boston Blackie on The Voices of Christmas Past, Great Radio Detectives, and Highway Horror; while her work on Casey, Crime Photographer can be sampled on Stop the Press! and the Casey sets Blue Note and Snapshots of Mystery.  Listen to Lesley as Margo Lane in The Shadow collections Bitter Fruit, Radio Treasures, Silent Avenger, and Strange Puzzles…and as a palate cleanser, check out Woods on the Inner Sanctum set Shadows of Death.  Happy birthday, Lesley!


Happy Birthday, Eddie Green!


If what I’m hearing are the familiar strains of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”—then we’ve apparently stumbled into old-time radio’s most famous watering hole, Duffy’s Tavern:

ARCHIE: Eddie, uh…get me a pail of hot water and a mop, will ya?

EDDIE: What for, you gonna take a bath?

ARCHIE: No, I’m gonna mop up the place…now, uh…lemme get to work here…

EDDIE: You? Going to work?

ARCHIE: Is it such a surprise?

EDDIE: Well…up to now, it’s been one of your hidden talents…

ARCHIE: Oh yeah? Well, that’s all been changed, Eddie—I’m even gonna help you do your work…now, hand me the mop…

EDDIE: Okay, but don’t get too close to me…

ARCHIE: Why not?

EDDIE: Whatever you got, I don’t wanna catch it…look, how come you suddenly wanna do my work?

ARCHIE: Eddie…just because a guy wants to help people, do you have to be suspicious?

EDDIE: If the guy is you, and the people is me…yes!!!

eddie-green-getty-imageThe actor who played “Eddie the Waiter”—essentially the “Rochester” to Duffy’s Tavern star Ed Gardner’s “Jack Benny”—was born in Baltimore, MD on this date in 1896.  Eddie Green was a show business veteran at the age of seven, performing as a “boy magician” for a number of churches in and around the Baltimore area.  By fifteen, he was hiring halls in nearby towns and making money with his prestidigitation.  He would abandon his magic act by the time he entered vaudeville, where he earned a hefty salary of $9 a week.

Green also became a fixture in burlesque.  He spent eleven years working as a right hand man for the legendary Billy Minsky, functioning as both writer and comedian.  After leaving Minsky, he started a lucrative career on stage, beginning in 1929 with the musical revue Hot Chocolates.  (Chocolates served as the Broadway debut for Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, and also featured James Baskett, future Oscar winner for Song of the South.)  Other shows that utilized Eddie’s comedic talents include Blackberries of 1932 (for which he wrote the book), A Woman’s a Fool—to Be Clever (1938), and The Hot Mikado (1939; an all-black version of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta).

eddiegreen1Eddie’s fame as a Broadway performer would later extend to the world of motion pictures.  He made his “talkie” movie debut in a 1929 Vitaphone short, Sending a Wire.  Like the pioneering writer-director-producer Oscar Micheaux, Green later participated in what were known at the time as “race pictures”—films produced with African-American audiences solely in mind.  Eddie wrote, directed, and starred in such features as What Goes Up (1939) and Mr. Adam’s Bomb (1949), and was the producer of titles like Dress Rehearsal (1939) and Comes Midnight (1940).  Green’s other motion picture appearances include Laff Jamboree (1945) and Mantan Messes Up (1946).

In a large sense, Eddie Green owed his fruitful radio career to Rudy Vallee—Vallee often featured Eddie on his Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour, Royal Gelatin Hour, and Sealtest shows.  Green was also a regular on his old friend Louis Armstrong’s variety series in 1937, where he performed sketches and routines with Gee Gee James.  Other radio shows on which the comedian appeared include The Gibson Family, Maxwell House’s Show Boat, The Jack Benny Program, The New Army Game (with Ben Bernie), Meet the Colonel (a sitcom starring F. Chase “Colonel Stoopnagle” Taylor), The Pursuit of Happiness, The Columbia Workshop, The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy, and The Philco Radio Hall of Fame.  Eddie was also a frequent performer on Jubilee, an AFRS series spotlighting top African-American talent (Lena Horne, Ernest Whitman, Leadbelly, etc.), and joshed with radio boss Ed Gardner on installments of AFRS’ Mail Call.

eddiegreen4The program that would eventually develop into Duffy’s Tavern was first auditioned on the CBS series Forecast.  Technically, Green wouldn’t join Duffy’s until the show premiered over CBS in March of 1941—but he did appear on a Forecast broadcast with the legendary Paul Robson in a production of “All God’s Children” (08/26/40).  Duffy’s would prove to be a splendid showcase for Eddie—the waiter character even shared the same surname, and as OTR historian John Dunning shrewdly observed, Green’s “cunning dialogue contained some of the show’s funniest lines.”  (An interesting note is that Eddie was no stranger to the craft of waiting on tables; he also dabbled in the food business, maintaining a chain of Harlem-based restaurants for a number of decades.)  Eddie, along with Duffy’s co-star Charlie Cantor (a.k.a. “Clifton Finnegan”), would reprise his famous radio role when Ed Gardner brought Duffy’s Tavern to the big screen in 1945.  Considered by many to be a notorious flop, film-wise, the picture actually made money due to its all-star Paramount Pictures cast.

amosandyEddie Green’s other claim-to-fame was his role as Stonewall the lawyer on Amos ‘n’ Andy; never has an individual made the legal profession so disreputable and yet so falling-down-funny at the same time.  Stonewall was a shyster…but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more charming one.  On one broadcast, Stonewall relates to the Kingfish the importance of maintaining positive PR with the public if one plans to run for political office—he himself has been out pressing the flesh and kissing any number of babies and young women.  “Well, what political office are you running for?” Stonewall is asked.  “I ain’t runnin’ for nothin’—I’m just out for the smoochin’!” he replies.  When Ed Gardner relocated Duffy’s Tavern from Brooklyn to Puerto Rico (the program moved for tax purposes), Eddie reluctantly gave up his gig as Stonewall and was replaced by Johnny Lee as “Algonquin J. Calhoun.”  (It just wasn’t the same after that.)

20788Duffy’s Tavern, sadly, would lose its most beloved employee when Eddie Green succumbed to a heart ailment on September 19, 1950.  If the information in this tribute seems a bit sketchy, it’s because the incredibly talented Green has never really received his proper due as a performer and comedian.  Green’s daughter Elva Diane Green has rectified this slight with the recent Bear Manor Media publication of Eddie Green: The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer.  It is the very definition of “labor of love,” as Elva researched major archives for more information than we can make available here. (For example, did you know that Eddie wrote the song standard “A Good Man is Hard to Find”?)

At Radio Spirits, we have Eddie on tap in the Duffy’s Tavern collection Duffy Ain’t Here, and you can also hear his hilarious contributions as Stonewall in our newest Amos ‘n’ Andy set Radio’s All-Time Favorites.  Happiest of birthdays to you, Eddie Green…you always made listening to the saloon “where the elite meet to eat” a most enjoyable pleasure.


Happy Birthday, Bert Lahr!


In his indispensable reference book The Great Movie Shorts, film historian Leonard Maltin made this observation of Leon Errol: “There are comedians, comics, and a few clowns around, but funnymen are hard to find.  A funnyman can be amusing under any circumstances; he doesn’t need stories to support him, as comedians do; he doesn’t need jokes, as comics do; and he doesn’t need particular settings, as clowns do.  He is funny in himself.”

lahr10I’ve always felt that “funnyman” was the perfect word to describe Bert Lahr—born Irving Lahrheim on this date in New York City in 1895.  If you mention Lahr’s name to someone familiar with classic movies, chances are the first thing that will come to mind is his wonderful performance as The Cowardly Lion in the timeless movie musical The Wizard of Oz (1939).  But Bert’s career transcended that role; he established himself as a one-of-a-kind performer in vaudeville, burlesque, and on the Broadway stage…making stops in radio, movies, and television along the way.

The son of German Jewish immigrants, Bert Lahr grew up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, dropping out of school at age 15 to join a vaudeville act.  From that beginning, Bert paid his dues until he eventually worked up to top billing on the Columbia Burlesque Circuit.  The unique entertainment style of burlesque was a starting point for many stars—Abbott and Costello, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, and Phil Silvers are just a few of the familiar names.  But it’s important to remember that many burlesque performers never advanced beyond burlesque; it took a special kind of entertainer to move on to bigger things.  Lahr was one such performer; he made his Broadway debut in a show called Harry Delmar’s Revels (1927).  One of the highlights of that revue was Bert’s rendition of “The Song of the Woodsman”—which he later performed in the feature film Merry-Go-Round of 1938.

lahr13Lahr’s next big success was Hold Everything! in 1928, and from that followed popular stage musicals such as Flying High (1930), Hot-Cha! (1932), The Show is On (1936; with Bea Lillie), and DuBarry Was a Lady (1939; with Ethel Merman).  Between 1927 and 1964, Bert appeared in a total of 18 Broadway shows—some of the most memorable included Burlesque (1948), Two on the Aisle (1951), Waiting for Godot (1956), The Girls Against the Boys (1959), and The Beauty Part (1962).  His final stage triumph was Foxy (1964), for which he received a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical (he had been nominated the previous year for his dramatic turn in Beauty Part.)

Though his motion picture debut was in a 1929 Vitaphone short entitled Faint Heart, it was his reprisal of the role of an eccentric aviator from Flying High that brought Bert Lahr into feature films when the Broadway show was adapted for the silver screen in 1931 (his co-star was the long-legged Charlotte Greenwood).  Throughout the 1930s, Bert supplemented his stage work with occasional film appearances. Educational Pictures even featured him in a series of two-reel comedy shorts that ranged from abysmal (No More West) to delightful (Off the Horses).  Truth be told, the movies were never really able to accommodate Lahr; his style of performing was a bit too broad to capture on celluloid…but he certainly gave it the old college try in vehicles like Love and Hisses (1937), Just Around the Corner (1939), and Zaza (1938).

lahr1Bert Lahr and motion pictures achieved harmony when he was cast as The Cowardly Lion in the M-G-M musical The Wizard of Oz.  His contract with the studio that boasted “more stars than there are in Heaven” stipulated he would receive $2500 a week…and even then he had to haggle.  (The studio was only going to offer him five weeks of work—Lahr held out for six.)  As it happened, shooting on Oz commenced over a period of several months, so Bert ended up making more than he had originally negotiated.  Oz is inarguably Lahr’s finest hour on screen; when warned that the role might typecast him Bert cracked: “Yeah, but how many parts are there for lions?”  (He would become so identified with the role that a biography written by his son John—a drama critic for The New York Times—was appropriately titled Notes on a Cowardly Lion.)  He would continue his association with M-G-M in such musicals as Ship Ahoy (1942) and Meet the People (1944).  He uttered his famous “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” in the latter film…providing the inspiration for Hanna-Barbera’s pink cartoon lion Snagglepuss.

lahr16Bert Lahr’s career on radio experienced the same setbacks that it encountered in feature films.  Despite having an “unforgettable bawl of a voice” (as described by Gerald Nachman in Raised on Radio), Lahr was often nervous in front of a microphone (he frequently twisted buttons off his shirt) and resorted to his trademark mugging to get a reaction from the studio audience (while listeners at home wondered what was so funny).  Still, Bert did the best he could in the aural medium; he appeared as a guest on Fred Allen’s program a number of times (resulting in some very funny broadcasts), and joshed with the likes of Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, and Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy) while guesting on such shows as Good News of 1939, Command Performance, The Philco Radio Hall of Fame, and The Theatre Guild On the Air.

lahr17One of Bert Lahr’s most memorable film turns was a supporting role in Always Leave Them Laughing (1949).  It harkened back to his burlesque days (the movie’s star was fellow Burly-Q veteran Milton Berle) and even allowed him to perform his legendary “Stop in the name of the stationhouse!” routine.  Bert continued to make occasional appearances in movies like Mister Universe (1951) and Rose Marie (1954), but by that time he was starting to make inroads into television.  His small screen triumphs include live performances in Cole Porter’s Let’s Face It and Anything Goes (with Ethel Merman and Frank Sinatra), both in 1954; a version of The Fantasticks in 1964; guest appearances on Jack Benny and Red Skelton’s shows; and turns on The Eleventh Hour and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.

lahr4Lahr’s farewell film appearance was a small role as “Professor Spats” in The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).  Bert passed away from undiagnosed cancer (the newspapers originally reported pneumonia) at the age of 72 in 1967.  Though he had fortunately filmed most of his scenes ahead of time, director Norman Lear did have to resort to a little trickery (including a voice double and body double—fellow burlesque veteran Joey Faye) to make certain Lahr’s performance stayed in the film.  Minsky’s offers a splendid valedictory tribute to the funnyman who convulsed audiences with helpless laughter…if you’ve not had the pleasure of sitting down with this movie I urge you to do so at your earliest opportunity.

21275Radio Spirits’ latest collection of vintage Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy broadcasts is entitled Smile a While—and because I was asked to compose the liner notes for the set, I have a special affinity for it…particularly since the majority of these broadcasts haven’t been heard since their original broadcast!  Our birthday boy is at his funnyman best in two broadcasts in this compendium, dated January 31, 1943 and December 19, 1943.  We also invite you to check out Some Enchanted Evening: The Greatest Broadway Hits—a three-CD set spotlighting famous show tunes from hit Broadway musicals.  Bert and co-star Ethel Merman are represented in this collection with their show-stopping “Friendship” from DuBarry Was a Lady.

Happy Birthday, Gracie Allen!


She was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen on this date in 1895, in “the city by the bay” (San Francisco, CA).  Fortunately, to accommodate vaudeville marquees (and future billing in movies, radio and TV), today’s birthday celebrant decided on “Gracie Allen” as her professional name.  A skilled singer and nimble dancer, Gracie would nevertheless become famous as the female half of one of the most successful comedy duos of the twentieth century with her husband George Burns.  Burns never made any bones about the fact that their show business success was due to Gracie; longtime Burns & Allen scribe Paul Henning once recalled in an interview how he wrote his mother with the sensational news that he was now writing jokes for George.

“Congratulations,” Mother Henning wrote back.  “But who writes for Gracie?  She’s the one who says the funny things.”

actress/comedian Gracie Allen as a little girlIt seemed written in the stars that Gracie Allen would embark on a show business career.  Her father Edward earned a living as a song-and-dance man in vaudeville, and Gracie made her stage debut at age three performing in his act.  At fourteen, Gracie teamed up with her three sisters in an act that saw success performing in various vaudeville houses throughout the West Coast.  On her own in the 1920s, Allen relied on her lively terpsichorean talents and a knack for Irish dialect to win bit parts as colleens in stage shows before going to work for the vaudeville troupe Larry Reilly and Company as a dancer.

As a result of a dispute over billing, Gracie eventually parted with Larry and Company…and for a brief moment, gave serious consideration to enrolling in secretarial school when she had difficulty finding work on stage.  In 1922, Allen attended a vaudeville show in New Jersey for the purpose of watching one of her roommates perform.  It was there she met both her future partner and husband, George Burns.

TrainBurns (born Nathan Birnbaum in 1896) had done everything under the sun during his vaudeville career: singing, dancing, and snappy, syncopated patter.  He had just split with partner Billy Lorraine when he met Gracie…and was impressed enough to gamble on starting an act with her, believing she would make an ideal comedic foil.  They opened at Newark’s Hill Street theatre in 1923; George was the comedian, Gracie the straight woman.

Their act initially went over with all the enthusiasm shown to ants at a picnic.  However, Burns couldn’t help but notice that while his one-liners “laid eggs,” Gracie’s straight lines got laughs.  “I knew right away that there was a feeling of something between the audience and Gracie,” George recalled in later years.  “They loved her, and so, not being a fool and wanting to smoke cigars for the rest of my life, I gave her the jokes.”

burns&allen11It wasn’t just audiences that fell for Gracie—George also started to look at her beyond their show business partnership…though he had serious romantic competition from her boyfriend, songwriter-dancer Benny Ryan.  What gave Burns the edge in the relationship was an emergency appendectomy operation Gracie was forced to undergo in a San Francisco hospital in 1925.  George sent his fiancée enough flowers to fill her entire hospital room, and Gracie was impressed enough to move him to the top of her list of suitors.  Around Christmas time, George gave Gracie an ultimatum: she had ten days to decide whether or not she would marry him.  On the ninth day, she said “yes”; the couple tied the knot on January 7, 1926.

gracieradioThe act perfected by Gracie and George during their vaudeville days was once described by Burns as “illogical logic.”  On stage, Gracie played a daffy screwball who sincerely believed the often ludicrous statements she uttered were completely true.  “It makes sense but it only made sense to Gracie,” George affirmed.  The husband-and-wife duo soon became top vaudeville headliners, even achieving every performer’s dream of “playing the Palace” in 1931 with a nine-week engagement at New York’s entertainment Mecca with Eddie Cantor and George Jessel.  By that time, however, vaudeville was beginning its slow decline…and Burns quickly realized that their act could only remain successful once they cracked radio.  After a tryout on the BBC (they were touring London at the time) and Gracie’s well-received performance on Cantor’s Chase and Sanborn Program in 1931, Burns and Allen were hired for The Robert Burns Panatela Program in February of 1932, sharing a microphone with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.

PianoWhile Gracie and George were making their fortunes on radio with a show that was frequently ranked among the top five comedy programs, the duo was also enjoying success on the silver screen.  They appeared in a series of one-reel comedy shorts for Paramount between 1930 and 1933, while gracing (ooh…bad pun) the casts of films like International House (1933), Six of a Kind (1934), and We’re Not Dressing (1934).  Gracie even appeared in three films without her famous husband: The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939), Mr. and Mrs. North (1941), and Two Girls and a Sailor (1944—in which she performs the classic “Concerto for Index Finger”).

Throughout the 1940s, Gracie and George continued their radio success with shows for the likes of Swan Soap and Maxwell House; by the time of their final season on radio (for Amm-i-dent toothpaste) in 1949, Burns and Allen were willing to give that upstart television a try.  It would be more accurate to say that George was willing; Gracie had a little stage fright before the television cameras and found it much easier to perform not looking at “the little red light.”  After doing a live show for two years, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show became a filmed series and, while never a ratings blockbuster, was one of CBS’ most dependable situation comedies.  Gracie had to be coaxed by George at the end of every season to renew their series; after eight years of small screen success, “Googie” told “Nattie” that she had had enough.  Gracie enjoyed retirement for six years before her passing in 1964; purportedly, George was so devastated by his wife’s death that for years the only way he could get a good night’s sleep was in her room.

21255In 1940, as a stunt on Burns & Allen’s Hinds Honey and Almond Cream show, Gracie undertook an ambitious campaign to run for President (“Down with common sense—vote for Gracie!”)…and in this election year, no self-respecting old-time radio fan can afford to be without Radio Spirits’ Gracie for President collection, featuring selected broadcasts from that memorable time (and campaign stops on the Jack Benny and Fibber McGee & Molly shows as a bonus).  Other sets featuring the couple in their comedic prime include As Good as Nuts, Burns & Allen and Friends, Muddling Through…and our most recent release, Keep Smiling—which features newly circulated shows not heard since their initial broadcast more than half-a-century ago!  Today’s birthday girl can also be heard on The Jack Benny Program compilations Jack Benny & Friends and Be Our Guest; our Yuletide collections Christmas Radio Classics and The Voices of Christmas Past; and the laugh-riot compendium Great Radio Comedy.  You can see Gracie and George on one of the one-reel shorts featured on the DVD Hollywood on Parade, Volume 1…and as a palate cleanser, enjoy the song stylings of Gracie on Did You Know These Stars Also Sang? Hollywood’s Acting Legends.  (Gracie performs “Snug as a Bug in a Rug” from The Gracie Allen Murder Case and the title tune from the 1939 musical Honolulu—a movie in which Gracie appears with George…but the two of them don’t meet until the end!)

Happy Birthday, William Gargan!


In 1940, actor William Gargan—born in Brooklyn, NY on this date in 1905—received appreciative tribute from his peers when he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal as a young foreman in the 1940 tearjerker They Knew What They Wanted.  Sadly, he didn’t win (he lost to The Westerner’s Walter Brennan)—but you know the old cliché: “It’s great just to be nominated.”  It was also great to possess a sensational career like the one Bill Gargan enjoyed on stage and in movies, TV…and of course, radio.

gargan3While attending high school at Brooklyn’s St. James School, Bill held down a number of jobs—from soda jerk to street car conductor.  After graduation, he advanced to more prestigious white-collar work.  Gargan was employed for a time as a credit investigator, and later as a collection agent for a clothier.  He nearly took a bullet for his trouble one day when a disgruntled customer (who was quite delinquent in his account) fired a shot at him.  His eventual career, however, came about while visiting his brother Edward during Ed’s participation in a musical comedy production on stage.  Bill landed a performing job himself, making his debut in Aloma on the South Seas in 1925.

Brother Edward was three years older than William…yet both brothers were born on the same date, July 17th.  Ed would later become a familiar face in the movies himself, with both Gargans working together in such films as The Devil’s Party (1938), Miss Annie Rooney (1942), and Follow That Woman (1945).  Though he was grateful to his older sibling for the opportunity to get into acting, Bill hedged his bets slightly; he served as a whiskey supplier (or bootlegger, to use the common nomenclature) for various New York speakeasies as he passed the time between acting gigs.

rainGargan’s big break came when he received rave notices for his work in the 1932 production of Philip Barry’s The Animal Kingdom.  He would reprise his role as Richard “Red” Regan in the silver screen version released later that year…though it wasn’t the first time he’d worked in front of a motion picture camera.  He had played bit parts in previous movies and was in the cast of such films as Rain (1932) and The Sport Parade (1932).  It was, however, the start of a prolific period that included such classics as Sweepings (1933), The Story of Temple Drake (1933), Headline Shooter (1933), Four Frightened People (1934), Black Fury (1935), The Milky Way (1936), and You Only Live Twice (1937).

ellery queenWilliam Gargan’s Academy Award nomination for They Knew What They Wanted opened up a lot of acting opportunities, since (despite working on some high-profile films) many of his onscreen appearances were in second features, or “B-films.”  Still, Bill got good parts in the cinema of the 1940s; his celluloid resume included I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), The Canterville Ghost (1944), The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), and Till the End of Time (1946).  Gargan appeared with Bud Abbott & Lou Costello in two of their vehicles, Keep ‘Em Flying (1941) and Who Done It? (1942).  In addition, he was seen in one of my particular favorites — an offbeat little programmer from Republic Pictures entitled Strange Impersonation (1946; one of director Anthony Mann’s early efforts).  The actor also took over for Ralph Bellamy as famed sleuth Ellery Queen in the last three Queen movies released by Columbia in 1942.  That franchise came to a halt because Gargan wasn’t under contract to the studio…or any studio, for that matter.

Throughout his years on the silver screen, Bill Gargan played a variety of different roles in different movies.  He was, however, quite reliable when it came to portraying policemen and detectives—and there was an antecedent for that.  Before his stage career, Gargan had actually been employed as a private detective for a New York agency—pulling down a salary that was commensurate with the fictional Jeff Regan, Investigator ($10 a day, plus expenses).  Bill was sacked when a diamond salesman he had been hired to protect got away from him.

murderHis gumshoe experiences in real life certainly added credence to his future radio portrayal of a private detective.  Gargan’s first sleuthing job over the ether was playing Inspector Burke on ABC Radio’s Murder Will Out beginning in mid-1945 (taking over for Edmund MacDonald).  This quiz program had a format similar to that of Ellery Queen: a mystery was performed before a studio audience and then four panelists (plucked from the same audience) had to correctly guess the conclusion.  Bill appeared on Murder until the show’s cancellation in June of 1946…while at the same headlining I Deal in Crime, another ABC series that cast him as shamus Ross Dolan.  Dolan, a veteran P.I., had taken a breather during the war to serve in what he jovially called “Uncle Sugar’s Navy”…but after mustering out was ready to get back in the crime-solving game.

Neither Murder Will Out nor I Deal in Crime were the first radio series to make William Gargan a headliner.  During the 1941-42 season, Bill was a regular on Captain Flagg & Sergeant Quirt—a sitcom based on movie characters first played by Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe in the 1926 silent What Price Glory. (McLaglen reprised his role on the air, with Gargan taking over for Lowe in early 1942).  In the summer of 1945, Gargan was one of several performers on G.I. Laughs, a lighthearted half-hour that encouraged servicemen to send in jokes (I’m guessing they weeded out the inappropriate ones).  Other shows on which Bill appeared include Command Performance, Family Theatre, Good News of 1940, The Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre, The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, The Lux Radio Theatre, Philco Radio Time (with Bing Crosby), The Rudy Vallee Hour, and The Wonder Show (with Jack Haley).

gargan16August 7, 1949 found William Gargan back on the airwaves in another detective drama—Martin Kane, Private Eye.  The novelty here was that, while the show was being broadcast over Mutual Radio, it was also appearing on the small screen as one of NBC Television’s initial boob tube offerings.  Bill was in his element as the titular gumshoe who, when not on a case, spent most of his free time at Happy McMann’s Tobacco Shop. (Hap was played by veteran thespian Walter Kinsella.)  This hang out spot was fitting, since the show was sponsored by the United States Tobacco Company.  After two years as Kane, Gargan became more and more disenchanted with the show’s scripts and quit the series, handing off the role to Lloyd Nolan.  Nolan also took over Bill’s radio duties, particularly when the radio Kane moved to NBC for its last season beginning in 1951.

gargan14Bill Gargan would also welcome NBC Radio as his new home beginning in October of 1951.  He started another detective series—inarguably his longest-running radio success—as Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator. Gargan’s new shamus wasn’t really all that different from his previous turn as Martin Kane.  In fact, the show’s original title, Barrie Crane, Confidential Investigator, had to be changed when the Kane people complained that the two names were too similar.  Bill would emote as Barrie from 1951 to 1955.  Later, he returned to his former Kane role in a syndicated TV version, appropriately titled The New Adventures of Martin Kane.

The time that William Gargan spent (as Martin Kane) at Hap McMann’s tobacco emporium was not at all beneficial. The actor developed throat cancer in 1958, and two years later his larynx had to be removed and replaced with an artificial voice box.  With his career effectively sidelined, Gargan went into television production…and spoke out fiercely against the dangers of smoking on behalf of the American Cancer Society.  His autobiography, Why Me?, was filled with colorful anecdotes about his career and his struggle with cancer.  William Gargan passed away on a flight from New York to San Diego, CA on February 17, 1979 at the age of 73.

20659Radio Spirits invites you to check out the DVD collection Hollywood on Parade, Volume 1—a compendium of classic “celebrity newsreel” shorts produced by Paramount Pictures between 1932 and 1934.  One of the shorts features juvenile actor Frankie Darro as a messenger boy who runs into various celebrities on the lot—including today’s birthday boy (not to mention the likes of Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, Jean Harlow, and other big name stars).  Danger, Death and Dames: Film & TV Crime Dramas is a 24-disc collection with over 100 hours of movies and television shows devoted to the weed of crime that bears bitter fruit…and you’ll find six vintage episodes of Martin Kane, Private Eye among them.  And last, but certainly not least, check out ten classic radio broadcasts of Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator!