Jeff Regan, Investigator is a fine, hardboiled detective/radio noir series from the 1940s. Today it's perhaps best-remembered as Jack Webb's last role before Dragnet. After his departure, it continued with Frank Graham filling Webb's formidable (gum)shoes until his untimely death.
Jeff Regan, Investigator debuted on CBS with the title Joe Canto, Private Eye on 10 July, 1948 with Barton Yarborough starring as Canto. The first episode, "Doctor, Lawyer and Indian Chief" was rerun a week after its initial airing with the new title of Jeff Regan, Private Eye. During its short run it would variously be referred to in print as Jeff Regan, Jeff Regan Det., and Jeff Regan Detective in addition to its proper title. Webb took over the role of Regan in the second episode, "The Prodigal Daughter" after which Yarborough continued to occasionally appear as Canto.
Webb and his roommate/creative partner, Richard L. Breen, had made names for themselves on the west coast and within radio circles with Pat Novak...for Hire (1946) produced by San Francisco's KGO. After quitting that show and relocating to Los Angeles, the two created its near clone, Johnny Madero, Pier 23 (1947) which aired nationally, on the Mutual Network. However, Johnny Madero was a summer replacement series and did not continue after its short season. After freelancing for a spell, Webb was approached by CBS about creating a new series, which led to the creation of Jeff Regan.
Jeff Regan was, like Pat Novak and Johnny Madero, a detective (or a "private eye, gumshoe, peeper, seamus, whatever you want to call it.") His nickname, "the Lyon's Eye" referred to his association with Anthony J. Lyon (played by Wilms Herbert), president of the Los Angeles-based International Detective Bureau (for whom Canto was a fellow operator). As with Jeff Regan's contemporary, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, and later, Dragnet, the series took full advantage of its Los Angeles's varied cultural and geographic terrain to give it a specific sense of space which lesser detective dramas lacked. Despite their lofty name, the IDB was a small agency with a single office located on Olive Street in what's now the Jewelry District. Regan's residence was a rental on Taft Avenue in what's now known as Franklin Village.
Other cast members include Laurette Fillbrandt as Lyon's secretary, Melody and guest stars included Bernice Barrett, Berry Kroeger, Betty Lou Gerson, Carol Matthews, Charles McGraw, Charles Seel, Clayton Post, Dave Henderson, David Ellis, Dickie Chambers, Ed Begley, Edgar Barrier, Eve McVeagh, Gloria Blondell, Grace Leonard, Hans Conried, Harry Lang, Herb Butterfield, Herb Ellis, Herb Vigran, Jack Kruschen, Jack Petruzzi, Jeff Chandler, John Hoyt, June Martel, Ken Christy, Lawrence Dobkin, Leo Cleary, Lou Krugman, Lurene Tuttle, Marlo Dwyer, Marvin Miller, Mary Lansing, Pat McGeehan, Paul Dubov, Paul Frees, Sidney Miller, Theodore Von Eltz, Tim Rogers, Wally Maher, William Conrad, and Yvonne Peattie.
The show initially featured a stereotypical organ underscore, performed by Del Castillo. Later it given an orchestrated musical score by Dick Aurandt. The show's announcers were Bob Stevenson and Bob Lemond. Scripts were written by E. Jack Neuman. It was produced and directed by Gordon T. Hughes and Sterling Tracy.
At the end of 1948, Jack Webb left Jeff Regan, Investigator and briefly returned to a revived Pat Novak . . . for Hire (then moved to ABC). In the meantime he worked on his next and best-known project, Dragnet. Of the 24 episodes of Jeff Regan, Investigator which starred Webb, 23 are currently in circulation. Although seemingly less celebrated than his other series, it has the snappy writing and staccato delivery of Webb's best work and holds up well against better known detective series like the aforementioned Philip Marlowe and The Adventures of Sam Spade.
In October, 1949, CBS relaunched the show with a new cast, featuring Frank "Man of a Thousand Voices" Graham in the role of Regan, Frank Nelson as Anthony J. Lyon, and Jim Backus portraying various roles. New scripts continued to be written by Neuman and Adrian Gendot before they were replaced by Gilbert Thomas, William Fifield, and William Froug. The new line-up debuted on 5 October, 1949 with the episode, "The Burned Out Immigrant." The quality and popularity continued to be high but the series ended abruptly ended when Graham commit suicide on 2 September, 1950 -- apparently over distress concerning his feelings for a Disney animator, Mildred Rossi. He was just 35. Of the 47 episodes in which Graham starred, only 14 are known to exist today.
Webb, of course, went on to star as Joe Friday on Dragnet, an excellent series which he and Yarborough (as Friday's sidekick as Sgt. Ben Romero) took to television in 1951. On 4 July, 1951, Webb simultaneously launched his labor of love, Pete Kelly's Blues. Yarborough died suddenly from a cerebral blood clot on 19 December, 1951.
Jack Webb episodes of the series are available to stream or download here. Frank Graham episodes are available here. They've been compiled onto compact discs by various parties (NB: quality may vary considerably) as well and when those come through Amoeba's doors, they end up with other OTR recordings in the Spoken Word section. Credit is due the folks over at Digital Deli Too, the internet's premier resource for information on American OTR. Please consider making a donation to help continue their work.
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