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Review: Radio Stars on Parade (1945)

radiostars3Effervescent chanteuse Sally Baker (Frances Langford) is a success at a nightclub owned by racketeer Lucky Maddox (Sheldon Leonard)—but when Maddox’s attentions start to drift towards a more amorous direction, she decides to go west, young man, go west.  She’s received communication from an agent named Phil Merwin (Ray Walker) that he’ll be able to get her radio work in Los Angeles, and since her G.I. boyfriend Danny (Robert Clarke) is also bound for the same destination, it appears to be a most fortuitous time for Sally’s career change.  Mr. Maddox, on the other hand, is not happy about losing both his meal ticket and object of ardor.  So, he sends a couple of his associates (Ralph Peters, Max Wagner) out to L.A. to keep an eye on his investment.

Mr. Merwin, in the meantime, has turned over his agency to a pair of out-of-work comedians, Jerry Miles (Wally Brown) and Mike Strager (Alan Carney)—though the two men are unaware that Merwin’s generosity is due to his having to lam it out of town to avoid a gambling debt.  Jerry manages to get Sally an audition with bandleader Skinnay Ennis that results in a job on his radio show despite Maddox’s threats to Mike that Sally should refuse the gig.  Both Jerry and Mike find themselves at the mercy of Lucky’s goons and attempt to escape them by hiding out on radio programs such as Truth or Consequences (featuring host Ralph Edwards).  Finally, the authorities round up Lucky and his mob and Sally and Danny are reunited in time for the fadeout.

browncarney1Radio Stars on Parade (1945) is a bit of a misnomer: the “stars” in the film certainly aren’t of the celebrity wattage as some of RKO’s previous radio-to-film employees like Fibber McGee & Molly and The Great Gildersleeve…it focuses more on what might be more accurately termed “second bananas” like Ennis and announcer Don Wilson.  The movie was really more of a showcase for the studio’s comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney…who appeared in a few films (though not teamed together) at RKO before The Powers That Be decided to feature them as an ersatz (Bud) Abbott & (Lou) Costello, beginning with the Buck Privates-like Adventures of a Rookie in 1943.

zombiesThere are two schools of thought regarding Brown and Carney.  The one I graduated from believes that despite the talents of the two men (Carney, for example, was most effective as Cary Grant’s sidekick in Mr. Lucky [1943]) they had no real chemistry as a comedy team…and many of their features are often painful to sit through as a result.  (I will make an exception in the case of Step Lively [1944], which was a decent musical remake of the Marx Brothers vehicle Room Service [1938].)  The other school acknowledges that while the team wasn’t going to measure up to Abbott & Costello, the two men did what they could with the tools that they had.  Two of the Brown-Carney vehicles, Zombies on Broadway (1945) and Genius at Work (1946), have cult followings owing to the presence of their co-star, Bela Lugosi.

wilsonWally and Alan play Jerry Miles and Mike Strager in Radio Stars—characters that they consistently portrayed in nearly all of their vehicles as a team with the exception of Lively and Seven Days Ashore (1944).  Friends of mine who are fans advocate that the two men are unfairly maligned because they rarely got strong material to work with (in Stars, the anemic script comes courtesy of Monte Brice and Robert E. Kent).  In fact, when revisiting Radio Stars the other day I found myself laughing more at Don Wilson than the duo—Don engages in some amusing “hep” badinage with Brown’s Miles: “I grab your gab, Gate…you’re lookin’ for a scat cat who’s a loon for a croon tune…and when I dig, I don’t jig…I’m solid…potato solid!”  (Donsy also has a nice joke when doing a commercial for Ennis’ radio show, sponsored by Paruin’s Vitamin Capsules: “Boys…if your girls want to know what makes you so strong…just say…’Honey—that’s because I’m full of Paruin’s!’”)

browncarney2Radio Stars also features bandleader Skinnay Ennis and vocalist Frances Langford, who appeared together for a time on Bob Hope’s radio program.  Ennis maintains his easygoing Southern persona and even gets a song spotlight with his hit “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.”  Langford, who shares top billing with Brown and Carney, doesn’t quite fare as well.  Although her singing talent is evident with such tunes as “Can’t Get Out of This Mood” she’s little more than a plot device—it’s difficult to believe that the woman who would later prove so adept at comedy by playing Blanche Bickerson wasn’t given an opportunity to do anything but sing and look pretty.  This was Frances’ second film with Wally and Alan.  I’ve yet to see their 1944 comedy musical Girl Rush…which features the novelty of Robert Mitchum as an outlaw who disguises himself as a mail order bride at one point in the movie.

edwardsSpeaking of drag—Messrs. Brown and Carney are also forced to don women’s clothing in Radio Stars…which is worked in cleverly as a stunt on Truth or ConsequencesConsequences host Ralph Edwards plays himself in both this segment and an earlier sequence that introduces the Jerry and Mike characters (with a little pie-throwing at Mr. Strager). Edwards’ radio show had also been featured in an RKO film three years earlier, Seven Days’ Leave.  The Truth or Consequences bits are the comedic highlights of Radio Stars—though I also chuckled during the film’s windup, which features our heroes barging in on a broadcast of Dick Tracy.  (The Tracy character would be the focus of four RKO programmers beginning the same year as Radio Stars on Parade’s release.)

leonardRufe Davis, who fans might recognize as conductor Floyd Smoot from TV’s Petticoat Junction (as well as a frequent B-western sidekick), has his moments as a sound patterns engineer (even singing a little ditty entitled “The Sound Effects Man”).  Sheldon Leonard performs what he could probably have done in his sleep by that point in his career: the menacing gangster, though he also conducts a brief masquerade as a courtly Southern attorney.  Sharp-eyed viewers will also spot character veterans like Emory Parnell (as a cop—there’s a stretch) and Jack Rice as a persnickety usher whose attempts to oust Leonard’s goons from the Consequences studio are doomed to fail.  Radio Stars was directed by comedy veteran Leslie Goodwins, who also helmed many of RKO’s Mexican Spitfire vehicles.  A news item in The Hollywood Reporter from that period noted that RKO executives were so pleased with the first cut of the film that they planned to do a few more films featuring radio personalities…but none of these productions came to pass.

radiostars2Radio Stars on Parade is by no means a great film…but the novelty of its radio background and spotlight on familiar “second bananas” surely make it a curiosity to look out for the next time you spot it on the schedule of Turner Classic Movies.  In the meantime, why not check out Frances Langford in The Bickersons: Put Out the Lights! and Burns & Allen: Treasury (as well as the 1946 feature People are Funny, another fun radio-based film).  Don Wilson and Sheldon Leonard can be heard in many of Radio Spirits’ Jack Benny collections…but you’ll also enjoy hearing Leonard as “Grogan” in such Phil Harris-Alice Faye compilations as Private Lives and Wonga and in dramatic showcases on Suspense, The Line Up and Richard Diamond, Private Detective.

Happy Birthday, Andy Clyde!

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The actor who entertained fans on radio, television and in the movies as Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick California Carlson was born on this date one hundred and twenty-two years ago in Blairgowrie, Scotland.  Yes, Andrew Allan Clyde was what California would call a “furriner”…and was born into a show business family.  His father was actor-producer-manager John Clyde, and his siblings David and Jean developed a flair for the buskin as well.  Andy Clyde first came to the U.S. in 1912 as part of a touring company (at the invitation of his friend James Finlayson, who you know as the bald-headed, mustachioed foil in many a Laurel & Hardy comedy) and by 1920 he was ready to establish permanent residency.

clyde11By 1922, Andy had established himself as a hard-working comedian at the studio run by none other than the “King of Comedy” himself, Mack Sennett.  Clyde worked in tandem with many of Sennett’s star funsters including Harry Langdon and Ben Turpin, and enjoyed a fairly successful collaboration with Australian-born Billy Bevan, appearing in such classic slapstick outings as Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925), Ice Cold Cocos (1926), and Wandering Willies (1926).  Because Mack was notoriously tight with a buck, Andy would eventually move up through the ranks to become the studio’s most popular comic…owing to the fact that Sennett’s other stars eventually deserted him for a more lucrative payday.

clyde5We would be remiss if we didn’t stress that once Andy obtained his “promotion,” he demonstrated that he was worthy of his rise in the ranks due to his invaluable comic talents.  While at Sennett, Clyde developed an onscreen persona of an elderly character with a drooping mustache, grey wig and spectacles (which went under a variety of names, but the most frequent was “Pop” Martin).  The characterization was so popular—allowing the comedian to play everything from crackpot scientists to wealthy eccentrics—that when Andy had a dispute over salary with Sennett in 1932 (the studio was experiencing financial trouble) Mack attempted to ape Andy’s “old man” character with actor Irving Bacon.  Audiences saw through the charade immediately…but by that time Andy had moved on to Educational Pictures (Sennett’s former distributor).

clyde8Andy Clyde was hired by director-producer Jules White to join the fledgling comedy two-reel shorts department at the Columbia Pictures studio in 1934, a mirth-making factory that audiences know today as the home of The Three Stooges.  Clyde was second only to Moe, Larry and Curly (and Shemp and Joe) in longevity at Columbia; his last two-reel comedy, Pardon My Nightshirt, was released in 1956.  Although the Columbia comedy shorts echoed many of those produced in the halcyon Mack Sennett slapstick days, Andy had matured enough as a movie comedian that he was able to use subtler methods (a mere lift of the eyebrow and a plaintive “My oh my oh my!”) to convulse audiences.  He starred in some truly first-rate shorts, among them Old Sawbones (1935), It Always Happens (1935), Caught in the Act (1936) and The Peppery Salt (1936).  Clyde was also making inroads as a much-in-demand character actor, lending support in features such as Million Dollar Legs (1932), The Little Minister (1934), Annie Oakley (1935) and It’s a Wonderful World (1939).

clyde2It was Andy’s work with William Boyd—known to movie audiences as motion picture cowboy Hopalong Cassidy—that remains his long-lasting legacy.  Beginning with Three Men in Texas in 1940, Clyde played California Carlson in 35 additional B-Westerns, ending with Strange Gamble in 1948.  Andy revived the character in the Hopalong Cassidy radio series (produced for Commodore Productions between 1948 and 1950).  Six of the Hopalong TV episodes (edited versions of feature film westerns) featured the California character.  Andy’s expert sidekick skills also came in handy when Monogram hired him to be the comic relief in a B-picture series featuring Whip Wilson beginning in 1949; Clyde appeared in an even dozen of the Wilson oaters before he left and was replaced by Fuzzy Knight.

clyde9With B-Westerns riding off into the sunset and the market for two-reel comedies drying up, Andy Clyde brought his talents to the small screen.  He had recurring roles on such television programs as Circus Boy, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Tall Man and No Time for Sergeants; and guest starred on the likes of The Texan, The Andy Griffith Show, Gunsmoke and Dr. Kildare.  His best remembered TV roles were that of George MacMichael, the next-door neighbor of Grandpappy Amos McCoy (Walter Brennan) on the long-running sitcom The Real McCoys, and Cully Wilson, a kindly farmer and neighbor of the Martin family on Lassie.  (It was Cully who inherited the famous collie dog at the beginning of the 1964-65 season when the Martins hightailed it off to Australia…until the farmer had a heart attack that paved the way for Lassie to take up with the U.S. Forestry Service.)  Clyde’s last television appearance was on an episode of Lassie in the following season (he played a different character, Ben Adams).  He passed away at the age of 75 on May 18, 1967.

19684Radio Spirits invites you to doff your ten-gallon hat in honor of Andy’s birthday and check him out on two CD collections of Hopalong Cassidy broadcasts: Cowtown Troubleshooters and Out from the Bar 20.  On a personal note…I’d like to salute the man who made my early childhood days of staring at a black-and-white TV a memorable and enjoyable experience, full of laughter and love.

Happy Birthday, Jack Kruschen!

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kruschen3Character great Jack Joseph Kruschen was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on this date in 1922.  A dues-paying member of the “Hey!  It’s That Guy!” show business fraternity, you’ve seen Jack in scores of films and TV shows.  Modern audiences remember him fondly as George “Papa” Papadopoulos, Sr. from the popular family sitcom Webster, which starred Alex Karras, Susan Clark and Emmanuel Lewis as the titular character.  Kruschen’s wide-ranging film work included an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Dr. Dreyfuss, the physician neighbor of executive-on-the-move C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) in the Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Apartment (1960).

kruschen1Old-time radio fans, on the other hand, are much more familiar with Jack’s behind-the-microphone resume. Kruschen hadn’t even graduated from high school when he was regularly performing in radio dramas, and he even appeared on early television broadcasts in Los Angeles during the late 1930s.  He emoted on a number of series produced exclusively for the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) during the war, and used that as a launching pad for jobs on such radio anthology series as The Cavalcade of America, The Lux Radio Theatre, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Family Theatre, Stars Over Hollywood and Romance.

kruschen2Jack Kruschen was a very busy radio actor.  His appearances over the ether include such favorites as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The CBS Radio Workshop, I Was a Communist for the FBI, Let George Do It, Night Beat, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Rocky Fortune, Rogers of the Gazette, Tales of the Texas Rangers, The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen and Wild Bill Hickok.  He also appeared multiple times on Dragnet, Escape, Gunsmoke and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Perhaps foreshadowing his later television work on sitcoms like Busting Loose and Full House, Kruschen also demonstrated his funny side on radio series such as Fibber McGee & Molly, The Halls of Ivy, Meet Millie, Mr. and Mrs. Blandings, My Little Margie, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show and That’s Rich.

thor1Kruschen’s most frequent on-the-air gig was that of Sergeant Muggavan on Broadway’s My Beat, the crime drama series directed and produced by radio’s “Renaissance man”, Elliott Lewis.  Lewis would also avail himself of Kruschen’s services while he was head man on Suspense, as well as on Crime Classics and On Stage.  Even as the Golden Age of Radio was drawing to a close, Jack worked steadily on Fort Laramie, Luke Slaughter of Tombstone, Frontier Gentleman and Have Gun – Will Travel.  Kruschen even participated in attempts to revive radio drama, with showcases on Heartbeat Theatre and Arch Oboler’s Plays in the 1960s, and The Hollywood Star Theatre and The Sears/Mutual Radio Theatre in the decade following.

kruschen5Jack Kruschen made his motion picture debut in a 1949 Betty Hutton musical comedy, Red, Hot and Blue…and from that moment on began to establish himself as a most welcome character presence on the silver screen just as he had on radio.  Among his more memorable films were Abbott & Costello Go to Mars, The War of the Worlds, Soldier of Fortune, The Night Holds Terror, Cry Terror!, The Buccaneer, The Angry Red Planet, The Last Voyage, Lover Come Back, Follow That Dream and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Kruschen is Dave Grafton in 1962’s Cape Fear, the lawyer hired by ex-con Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) to defend him while he continues to terrorize attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) and his family; he also played Jake Birnbaum, G.W. McLintock’s (John Wayne) chess-playing pal in the 1963 comedy-western McLintock!

kruschen6Kruschen’s appearances on the radio Dragnet would extend to the television version as well—particularly an unforgettable 1954 outing entitled “The Big Crime,” which was quite groundbreaking in its depiction of the then-taboo-to-TV subject of child molestation.  Jack also notched guest appearances on such series as Zorro, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, Batman, Bonanza and Ironside.  He briefly appeared as Tully the bartender on the short-lived 1960-61 series Hong Kong, which starred Rod Taylor.  Jack Kruschen died at the age of 80 on April 2, 2002.

20546So if you’re curious to check out the voluminous radio output of this incredibly prolific character actor—the first question best asked might be: “What Radio Spirits collection doesn’t feature Jack Kruschen?”  But that’s just us engaging in a little facetiousness…we can think of no better place to start than with Jack’s signature series, Broadway’s My Beat and the collections Murder, Neon Shoals and Great White Way.  Mr. Kruschen is also well represented on Dragnet (Crime to Punishment), The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (Volumes 1 and 2), Jeff Regan, Investigator, Romance, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show (Explain the Beer, Quite an Affair), The Halls of Ivy, The Mutual Radio Theater, Frontier Gentleman (Life and Death, Aces and Eights), Fort Laramie (Volume Two), Rocky Fortune, Suspense (Tales Well Calculated, Around the World, Omnibus), The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Surplus Homicides, Mayhem is My Business), Escape (Escape to the High Seas, High Adventure), Let George Do It (Enter Mr. Valentine), Night Beat (Lost Souls, Nightside is Different) and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Confidential, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases, Wayward Matters).

Review: Alias Boston Blackie (1942)

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alias8It’s Christmas Eve, and reformed safecracker Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris) has arranged for a vaudeville troupe to entertain the prisoners at his “alma mater” in the spirit of fellowship and good cheer.  One of the dancing girls in the company, Eve Sanders (Adele Mara), risks violating the prison rules by coming along.  She’s already visited her brother Joe Trilby (Larry Parks) twice that month — he’s a guest of the state for a fifteen-year stretch as a result of his participation in a robbery-murder.  Blackie reassures clown Roggi McKay (George McKay) that it’ll be okay for Eve to make the trip, confident that no one will recognize her among all the other showgirls.

alias2On the bus ride up to the prison, Blackie and the performers pick up a pair of hitchhikers—cops Farraday (Richard Lane) and Matthews (Walter Sande), because Farraday is certain that Blackie’s Christmas surprise means that he’s up to something.  As usual, Blackie’s past makes him an object of suspicion—but the guilty culprit in this instance is Joe.  In the pen for a crime he didn’t commit, he ties up Roggi in a spare room and walks right out the prison gate disguised as the clown.  Joe has sworn to get even with the two men who set him up as a patsy, so Blackie and The Runt (George E. Stone) have their hands full trying to stop the elusive fugitive…and stay one step ahead of the always mistrustful Farraday.

Because Alias Boston Blackie (1942) takes place in a twenty-four hour period (Christmas Eve to Christmas night), in recent years it’s often made the rounds among the Yuletide-themed films showcased on Turner Classic Movies in the month of December.  The movie was originally released in April of 1942, and even though the proceedings in Alias only tangentially come into contact with the holiday season, that doesn’t keep it from being every bit as pleasurable as the first two entries in Columbia’s Boston Blackie franchise.  (There’s some sentimental camaraderie between Blackie and Farraday despite their usual squaring off, and even a lovely Christmas toast at film’s end!)

alias7Chester Morris (Blackie), George E. Stone (Runt), Richard Lane (Farraday) and Walter Sande (Matthews) all reprise their familiar series roles in this third entry, as does Lloyd Corrigan as Blackie’s chum Arthur Manleder (who has a few comic relief bits as he suffers from a mild case of lockjaw)…and in addition, Alias Boston Blackie introduces the character of Jumbo Madigan to the franchise; a pawnshop proprietor who could always be counted upon to provide Blackie with information about individuals with ties to the underworld.  Jumbo’s played in this entry by Cy Kendall—a stocky actor known for playing villains in such serials as The Green Hornet (1940) and Secret Agent X-9 (1945)—who would revisit the part in the Blackie vehicle immediately following Alias, Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942), as well as in The Chance of a Lifetime (1943).

alias6Classic movie fans will recognize Larry Parks in the role of Joe.  This actor later achieved silver screen fame playing the greatest entertainer of them all, Al Jolson, in both The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949).  (Tragically, his movie career would come to an end in the 1950s as a result of the blacklist…despite having bared his soul in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.)  Actress Adele Mara plays Joe’s sister, Eve, and is best known for her roles in B-westerns and two John Wayne classics, Wake of the Red Witch (1948) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  You’ll recognize character actor Paul Fix as one of the bad guys. (Fix was Marshal Micah Torrance on TV’s The Rifleman.) And if the gentleman driving the bus looks as if he’d be more comfortable underwater, that’s because it’s Sea Hunt’s own Lloyd Bridges in one of his earliest cinematic outings.

alias4Alias Boston Blackie continues the winning formula of the previous films in Columbia’s franchise as a fast-paced and entertaining programmer that deftly blends suspense and snickersThe screenplay is by Paul Yawitz (who was also responsible for Confessions of Boston Blackie) and is directed at a breakneck pace by Lew Landers, an accomplished B-picture director who always made them move and on budget.  The dialogue is snappy and the situations are suspenseful.  In fact, there is an encounter with cops at a police station that might remind viewers of The Silence of the Lambs — honest, it’s not as bizarre as it sounds — that results in a pursuit of Blackie (who is disguised as a uniformed cop), Eve, and The Runt via motorcycle and sidecar.

20588Next month, Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942)!  While it sounds like fame might be going to our hero’s head…he’s really just visiting the film capital to bail out his chum Arthur Manleder.  Look for Alias Boston Blackie on a classic movie channel near you…and don’t forget to check out Radio Spirits’ latest CD release featuring the “friend to those who have no friends”—Boston Blackie: Outside the Law.

Happy Birthday, David Friedkin!

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The birth of one of radio’s most prolific and celebrated writers occurred on this date one hundred and two years ago.  David Friedkin, whose ambitions of being an actor-musician (he studied violin at the famed Julliard School) eventually took a back seat to writing for radio…and later television and movies as well.  It’s a little odd to mention Friedkin’s name without adding “and Morton Fine” to complete the thought.  Fine, who was four years Friedkin’s junior, teamed up with David in the 1940s to write for some of radio’s best remembered shows, including Suspense and Escape.  To give you an idea of how interchangeable the two scribes were—an entry written by their one-time boss, Frederic W. Ziv, in the 1959 Radio Annual and Television Year Book identifies them as “Mort Friedkin and David Fine.”  (Well, Ziv might have been too busy counting his money to proofread…who’s to say?)

20546David and Morton began their prosperous partnership around 1948, when the two men worked in tandem on such series as The Front Page and The Philip Morris Playhouse.  In addition, Friedkin and Fine were the writers responsible for a 1949 audition script entitled “Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye”—which was a building block in what eventually became the Gunsmoke radio series.  They also penned many of the early scripts of the police procedural program The Line Up, though their most famous contribution to the crime drama genre was Broadway’s My Beat, the 1949-54 series directed and produced by Elliott Lewis.  Friedkin and Fine would become valuable employees in Lewis’ stable; they also wrote for Elliott and his wife Cathy’s On Stage series.  Their most fruitful collaboration, however, was their work on Crime Classics—a short-lived but excellent anthology that dramatized crimes of a historical nature.  David and Morton meticulously researched (along with Lewis) each incident that they planned to dramatize each week, and then allowed themselves a little literary license by giving the proceedings a humorously macabre touch.

boldventureFriedkin and Fine can also take credit for luring Humphrey Bogart to radio during the time they worked for Ziv.  Bogie had been approached about doing a weekly over-the-airwaves program in the past (including a 1949 audition entitled “Dead Man”), but the actor wasn’t too anxious to commit himself to a live microphone every week.  The syndicated series that Friedkin and Fine pitched to him—which would eventually premiere as Bold Venture—would accommodate the actor’s schedule, allowing him (and his co-star, wife Lauren Bacall) to do 3-4 shows a week ahead of time, freeing the pair to continue their movie work.  Bogie and Baby collected $4,000 per episode of Bold Venture and the series went on to be one of Ziv’s most popular ventures.  As soldier-of-fortune Slate Shannon, Bogart owned both a hotel and the boat of the program’s title…and engaged in weekly misadventures with his “ward,” Sailor Duval (Bacall) in the Caribbean.  The success of the show (it was syndicated to over 400 radio stations) later ensured its transition to a television version in 1959 (on which David later wrote and directed), with Dane Clark and Joan Marshall as Shannon and Duval.

ispyBold Venture was just one of many television shows that David Friedkin would oversee—not only as a writer, but as a director and producer as well.  He penned scripts for such series as Frontier, Target, The Aquanauts and The Case of the Dangerous Robin…while directing and/or producing the likes of Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, Dr. Kildare, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Breaking Point and The Virginian.  His most famous contribution to the cathode ray tube—again, in tandem with Morton Fine—was the successful espionage series I Spy, which ran on NBC-TV from 1965 to 1968 and starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as a pair of spies masquerading as an amateur tennis player (Culp) and his trainer (Cos).  I Spy was an audience favorite for its tongue-in-cheek approach to the spy genre, and was responsible for catapulting Cosby to TV stardom (the program would garner the actor-nightclub comedian three consecutive Emmy Awards for his work).  David even resurrected his dormant acting ambitions to appear in two I Spy episodes (as did partner Morton Fine).

pawnbrokerFriedkin would finish out his career in television, although he did step behind a motion picture camera on a couple of occasions. His silver screen efforts include Hot Summer Night (1957) and Handle with Care (1958), but he turned over the reins to Sidney Lumet for his most successful film project, 1965’s The Pawnbroker (co-written with Fine).  The movie starred Rod Steiger as the titular character who’s haunted by past demons as a Holocaust survivor, and is today considered one of Lumet’s most accomplished films.  Before his death on October 15, 1976, David Friedkin would continue to work as a writer, director and producer on popular series such as Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak and Barnaby Jones.

20415Of course, at Radio Spirits…it’s all about David Friedkin’s legacy during the medium’s Golden Age.  We highly recommend you start off with Crime Classics, a woefully neglected series that features some of Friedkin and partner Morton Fine’s best writing, and another underrated gem in The Line Up (Witness).  There are also several sets of Broadway’s My Beat on hand: the recently released Great White Way, and the earlier Murder and Neon Shoals (there are also Broadway and Line Up broadcasts on the potpourri collection Police and Thieves: Crime Radio Drama).  For dessert, why not take a listen to some Friedkin-Fine contributions to Suspense (Tales Well Calculated) and Escape (Escape to the High Seas).

“From Times Square to Columbus Circle…the gaudiest, the most violent—the lonesomest mile in the world…”

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By the beginning of the 1950s, radio crime drama began to develop a new breed of program that, in the words of old-time radio historian Jim Cox, “witnessed a forbidding side of law enforcement in the harsh realities of an urban backdrop.”  Jack Webb’s seminal police procedural Dragnet is considered by many to have been at the forefront of this new kind of cop show…but it’s interesting to note that Dragnet was actually preceded by a few months by a series that premiered over CBS Radio sixty-five years ago today: Broadway’s My Beat.

ArossbroadwayBroadway’s My Beat detailed the exploits of plainclothes homicide detective Danny Clover of the N.Y.P.D. According to an early CBS press release: “As a kid, Danny Clover sold papers and shined shoes along the Great White Way, and later pounded the beat as a policeman. He knows everything along Broadway—from panhandler to operatic prima donna—but he’s still sentimental about the street, forever a wonderland of glamour to him.” Stage veteran Anthony Ross played Clover in Broadway’s early run, which originated at the network’s New York Studios for the first four months, with producer Lester Gottlieb and director John Dietz at the helm.

Elliott-Lewis-CBBeginning on July 7, 1949, the program moved to the West Coast—where none other than “Mr. Radio” himself, Elliott Lewis, took over Broadway’s My Beat’s direction and production chores.  It would be the actor’s first foray into working on the other side of microphone, which he would continue to do with such series as Suspense, On Stage and Crime Classics.  Writers Morton Fine and David Friedkin (Bold Venture) handled most of the scripting for the series.  Director-producer Lewis was a native Manhattanite, and brought this expertise to the program…particularly in the area of “sound patterns.”  Lewis utilized three sound effects men—David Light, Ralph Cummings and Ross Murray—to give him precisely what he wanted: a cacophonous show where “even the people in New York are noisy.”  Elliott strongly believed that Manhattan was just as much a character as the regulars in the series. “You should hear the city constantly,” he told the SFX men.  The Big Apple was even referenced in Broadway’s memorable theme song, I’ll Take Manhattan.  The program’s vibrant musical score was composed by Alexander Courage, who would later write the opening theme for the television classic Star Trek.

thor10The move of Broadway out west also resulted in a casting change in the main character of Detective Clover; Larry Thor, a CBS staff announcer familiar to both Suspense and Escape audiences, won the role.  Two other characters appeared regularly on the show: Sergeant Gino Tartaglia (the show’s comic relief, played by Charles Calvert) and Sergeant Muggavan (played by future Oscar nominee Jack Kruschen).  Supporting roles were played by a mixture of OTR veterans and movie/TV actors, including favorites such as Hy Averback, Edgar Barrier, Harry Bartell, Herb Butterfield, Mary Jane Croft, Lawrence Dobkin, Herb Ellis, Betty Lou Gerson, Virginia Gregg, Sheldon Leonard, Cathy Lewis, Eve McVeagh, Barney Phillips, Irene Tedrow and Martha Wentworth.

20546While Broadway’s My Beat covered much of the same territory as the better-known Dragnet—exploring hard-hitting topics foreign to radio drama at that time, like juvenile delinquency and anti-Semitism—it eschewed the crisp, clipped presentation of the Jack Webb program in favor of a more literate approach that sometimes veered toward the flowery.  It’s important to remember, however, that both programs paved the way for later radio police dramas like The Line Up and Twenty-First Precinct.  During its five-year radio run (from February 27, 1949 to August 1, 1954), Broadway was mostly sustained by the network (though it did have brief sponsorships by Lux Soap and Wrigley Gum) and was a utility series in the same manner as radio’s Escape.  It would often be bounced around (at one time it was heard in fifteen different time slots) to fill a cancellation hole in CBS’ schedule or called upon as a summer replacement (for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in the summer of 1950 and Meet Corliss Archer in 1951).  In fact, there was a time when Broadway and two other Elliott Lewis series, Crime Classics and On Stage, could be heard on the same Sunday night in 1954.

Of the 212 broadcasts that comprised the radio run of Broadway’s My Beat, about half of those have survived.  Radio Spirits has some of them available in three wonderful CD sets: the recently released Great White Way, and the earlier Murder and Neon Shoals.  In addition, the Police and Thieves: Crime Radio Drama set contains several programs from the series, as well as many of the shows that followed in its wake.

Review: Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941)

confessions7Diane Parrish (Harriet Hilliard) has commissioned art dealer Eric Allison (Walter Soderling) to sell a valuable statue at an auction…but has no inkling that Allison and two of his confederates (Ralph Theodore, Kenneth MacDonald) are actually going to fob off a copy of the art treasure and keep the original for themselves.  She learns of their duplicity at the auction, and when she attempts to blow the whistle on their scheme is shot by one of the men.  Diane survives with just a flesh wound, but Allison is felled by the same bullet.  And, because ex-jewel thief and safecracker Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris) was also at the sale—at the request of his wealthy friend Arthur Manleder (Lloyd Corrigan) —he’s the number-one suspect in Allison’s murder.  At least, that’s how Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane), Blackie’s nemesis on the force, figures it.

confessions6There’s no murder mystery at the heart of Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941); the audience knows the identity of the killer from the get-go.  The bulk of the movie’s 65-minute running time finds Blackie staying one step ahead of Farraday as he attempts to locate Allison’s corpse (which the murderer has stashed inside the fake statue) in order to verify that the bullet didn’t come from his gun, thus proving his innocence.  Confessions defies the conventional movie wisdom that sequels rarely stack up against the original; it’s every bit as entertaining as Meet Boston Blackie (1941) and, in a small way, improves on its predecessor with a suspenseful plot.  It’s a bit far-fetched—but, hey…it’s a movie, not a documentary—and is leavened with lighter moments of first-rate comedy.

confessions8Chester Morris returns to play our hero, and he’s joined by Richard Lane (as Farraday) and Walter Sande—who played a uniformed cop in the previous Meet Boston Blackie, but settles into his familiar role of Detective Matthews in the first of five Blackie vehicles.  Making his debut in the series as “The Runt” is character great George E. Stone.  Stone, whose cinematic specialty was playing lowlifes and stoolies (you might recognize him as “Toothpick Charlie” in Some Like it Hot), was positive perfection as Blackie’s comic relief sidekick, and would play the hapless Runt in every remaining Boston Blackie movie save the final entry, Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1949).  Also making his first Blackie film appearance is veteran actor-director Lloyd Corrigan as Blackie’s wealthy pal Arthur Manleder—Manleder was a recurring character in the Blackie franchise (the new Radio Spirits Boston Blackie collection, Outside the Law, even features Manleder in one of the broadcasts), appearing in eight vehicles and played by Corrigan in six.  (Corrigan’s Manleder is the focus of one of Confessions’ priceless running gags as he helplessly attempts to extricate himself from a pair of handcuffs.)

confessions1Columbia’s B-picture factory served the useful purpose of providing work for their contractees as well as allowing novice directors a chance to earn their stripes.  Confessions of Boston Blackie was one of the earliest features helmed by Edward Dmytryk, who would make a name for himself directing film noirs at RKO like Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Crossfire (1947); he also directed later classics such as The Caine Mutiny (1954) and Broken Lance (1954).  While at Columbia, Dmytryk helmed a fun musical comedy entitled Sweetheart of the Campus (1941), and one of the female stars of that film, Harriet Hilliard, plays the leading lady here in Confessions.  Harriet was just making a name for herself over the airwaves with her husband Ozzie Nelson (who was also in Campus) on Red Skelton’s Raleigh Cigarette Program when Confessions hit theatres; later, after Dmytryk went to RKO, he used Harriet in one of the Falcon entries he directed, The Falcon Strikes Back (1943).

confessions3Harriet’s a lot of fun in this film (she reminds me a little of Penny Singleton) and her performance is as far from the female half of “America’s favorite couple” as you could imagine.  She gets a little competition in Confessions of Boston Blackie from actress Joan Woodbury (best remembered for playing comic strip heroine Brenda Starr in a 1945 Columbia serial adaptation), who essays the role of a conniver named Mona…out to shake down old flame Blackie at a most inopportune time.  You might also recognize Bowery Boy William “Billy” Benedict as an unfortunate ice cream vendor who hilariously has his uniform stolen twice by Blackie as he attempts to elude the cops.  In addition, familiar Three Stooges villain Kenneth MacDonald (who later played a judge in a number of Perry Mason episodes) is on hand here as one of the bad guys; he’s distinguished by his sebaceous manner and rich, resonant voice.

20588Jay Dratler, who wrote the story and screenplay for Meet Boston Blackie, teamed up with Paul Yawitz to concoct the engaging story for Confessions.  Yawitz is credited with the screenplay, and would contribute other Blackie scenarios including the third movie in the series, Alias Boston Blackie (1942)—which Radio Spirits will review next month.  (It’s Christmas, Boston Blackie-style!)  In the meantime, we encourage you to seek out Confessions of Boston Blackie the next time it turns up on Turner Classic Movies…and if that’s too long a wait, our newest CD collection, Outside the Law, is just the tonic if you need a Blackie fix.

The Happy Anniversary Matter

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Who would have guessed that sixty-five years ago today, the premiere of a half-hour program about an independent investigator who specialized in following up on insurance claims would wind up as one of the two last network dramatic shows to leave the airwaves…and bring Radio’s Golden Age to an end?  Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar originally starred Charles Russell as “the man with the action-packed expense account”—and no doubt listeners wondered what could be so exciting about an itemized list of expenses.  The surname of the lead character, Dollar, referred to the investigator’s gimmicky custom of tossing silver dollars as tips to people in the service industry (busboys, bellhops, doormen, etc.)—which hardly made for compelling radio.

dick_powellThe series that OTR historian John Dunning once observed as having “more lives as a cat” had its genesis with an audition record produced on December 7, 1948 starring new movie tough guy Dick Powell.  But, Powell decided that he’d rather whistle “Leave it to Love” every week on Richard Diamond, Private Detective—so after a second audition (January 14, 1949), B-movie actor Charles Russell got the part.  Because Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar had originally been planned as a private eye drama, many of the P.I. trappings were in place on the show—the only difference was that Dollar engaged in much of the legwork and painstaking detail of checking the claims involving arson, theft, etc…and only on occasion was he involved in homicides.  Johnny was employed by a clearinghouse of insurance companies known collectively as “the Universal Adjustment Bureau,” which would send him to various hot spots in and outside the U.S.  Unlike his private eye brethren, Dollar was generally on good terms with the cops…but he possessed many of the attributes that made a good private dick, including a keen analytical mind and the necessary muscle to deal with threatening situations.

edmondobrienRussell stayed with YTJD until January of 1950, when he was replaced by Edmond O’Brien—the character actor who had made quite a name for himself in film noirs like The Killers, White Heat and D.O.A.  O’Brien was Dollar for two years before handing the role off to John Lund, known to movie audiences for his roles in such films as To Each His Own and A Foreign Affair, in November of 1952.  While competent actors, the stints of Russell, O’Brien and Lund really didn’t make Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar stand out from any of the other crime dramas on the air at that time…and what’s more, the CBS Radio Network bounced the show around continuously as a sustaining program during the five years it was on the air.  (It did secure a sponsor during the Lund years, with Wrigley’s Gum paying the bills from March 1953 to August 1954.)

bob-baileyJust as it looked as if Johnny was going to fill out his last expense account, hope for the series was rekindled when producer-director Jack Johnstone revamped the show into a five-day-a-week quarter hour that featured serialized stories.  (This concept was developed in a never-broadcast audition with The Adventures of Philip Marlowe’s Gerald Mohr as “America’s fabulous freelance investigator.”)  Tackling the role of Dollar this time was actor Bob Bailey, familiar to radio listeners from a Mutual detective series that ran from 1946 to 1954—Let George Do It.  Johnny Dollar was the role Bob Bailey was born to play; the actor brought to the part a wry, quick-witted sense of humor, supplied for him by writers like Johnstone, Les Crutchfield and Robert Ryf—who were able to use the serialized version of the show (now totaling an hour and fifteen minutes each week) to flesh out supporting characters while offering meaty, suspenseful plots.  The fifteen-minute YTJD series ran from October 3, 1955 to November 2, 1956, and most fans of the series would agree that this is when the program reached its creative peak.

mandel_kramerYours Truly, Johnny Dollar reverted back to its half-hour format on November 11, 1956, with star Bailey still filling out expense reports on a weekly basis—but Bob’s last case was broadcast on November 27, 1960.  CBS had decided to move production of the show to New York, and Bailey decided to stay on the West Coast, and he gave up the role to Robert Readick when the show resumed in December of that same year.  After six months of Dollar, Readick made way for Mandel Kramer, who finished out the series’ fourteen-year-run on September 30, 1962 (immediately following the final episode of Suspense), bringing “the Golden Age of Radio” to a close.

20544Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar is that radio rarity where the popularity of the program is larger today than when it was first broadcast.  A good starting point if you want to check out what the series has to offer is the Radio Spirits set The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, which will allow you to sample all of the actors who played the titular insurance investigator during its fourteen-year-run.  The most recent YTJD set is Wayward Matters, and in addition there’s Phantom Chases, Murder Matters, Confidential (with liner notes by yours truly, Ivan Shreve) and of course…Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.