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A look at the Lyon's Eye -- Jeff Regan, Investigator

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 18, 2014 04:12pm | Post a Comment

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. 




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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 ClearyLou 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. 

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This one's about the Blues, Pete Kelly's Blues

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 12, 2014 01:40pm | Post a Comment

Today Jack Webb is best remembered for his portrayal of Detective Sergeant Joe Friday on the radio and television series Dragnet. Friday – a stiff, slouching, robotic cop who chain smokes as he rails against drug abuse – embodies for many folks the definition of a hypocrite and a square. However, the real Webb was also quite the hepcat, an amateur jazz musician with a massive collection of records. In addition to playing hard-boiled detectives, he also used radio to attack social injustices (on One out of Seven) and, with Pete Kelly's Blues, indulge his lifelong love of jazz and Chandler-esque noir.
 


Pete Kelly's Blues lobby card

Pete Kelly's Blues began as an unsponsored replacement series for The Halls of Ivy after a 13 February audition. It debuted on NBC on 4 July, 1951 and aired on Wednesday nights in most markets (Saturdays in others). It was created by Richard L. Breen, who'd previously worked with Webb on the wonderful and not-at-all dissimilar radio noir series, Pat Novak, for Hire, which Webb had left in 1947. Throughout the series' short run, Webb continued to star on both the radio version of Dragnet, which ran from 1949 until 1957, and the television version, which began a few months after Pete Kelly's Blues and continued to air until in its first run until 1959).

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Happy Birthday, Johnny Madero, Pier 23

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 24, 2013 05:30pm | Post a Comment
On this date (23 April) back in 1947, the radio drama Johnny Madero, Pier 23 made its debut. It
 was the second detective drama that resulted from the collaboration of Jack Webb and Richard L. Breen


St. Regis Hotel in 1904

Jack Webb was born 2 April, 1920, in
Santa Monica, California, the son of Margaret (née Smith) and Samuel Chester Webb. Samuel split before Jack’s birth and and thus the child was rasied by his mother and maternal grandfather, who lived together in Bunker Hills St. Regis Apartments.


As a child Webb attended school nearby in Filipinotown at Our Lady of Loretto Elementary School. He attended high school at Belmont High, in Westlake. He later studied art at St. John's University, Minnesota. During World War II Webb enlisted in the Army Air Forces. After receiving a hardship discharge, he moved to San Francisco where hefound work as a radio DJ. In February, 1946 at ABC’s local affiliate, KGO, Webb first hosted half-hour comedy, The Jack Webb Show, written by Jim Moser. In March writing changed hands to Richard L. Breen.


Richard "Dick" Breen was born in Chicago. After returning from World War II, during which he served in the Navy, he moved to San Francisco and became roommates with Webb. In August, Webb and Breen debuted their hard-boiled detective creation, Pat Novak… for Hire. Pat Novak… for Hire is one of the great hard boiled radio noirs, most immediately notable for Breen’s over-the-top Chandler-esque writing. The two left the program in over creative differences with KGO’s management. The show continued, less memorably, with Ben Morris in the lead role and Gil Doud -- formerly of The Adventures of Sam Spade -- taking over the writing. 


1947 - The San Francisco of Johnny Madero... and Pat Novak

Relocating to Hollywood, Webb and Breen pursued work with the latter scoring the first big success, penning the screenplay for A Foreign Affair. Webb’s first major gig was in January 1947 as an ensemble performer on Murder and Mr. Malone, starring a pre-Nightbeat Frank Lovejoy. A few months later Webb would again host his own show.



Johnny Madero, Pier 23 debuted in April at MBS, with Breen acting as a writing consultant. JohnnyMadero, like Pat Novak, was a San Francisco boat-renting detective for hire. Where Novak often turned to Jocko Madigan, an alcoholic ex-physician, Madero often consulted a similar character named Dipso. The antagonists of both programs were sadistic SFPD inspectors (Johnny Madero’s was played by the wonderful William Conrad, five years before he starred on Gunsmoke). Novak lived at Pier 19 and Madero at Pier 23. ABC were not happy with the two programs’ perceived similarities and subsequently sued their rival network.


MBS replaced Dipso with Father Leahy, changed the opening theme music, and satisfied, ABC dropped their suit. 26 episodes were ordered of the series and it was a hit -- almost immediately there was discussion of a Johnny Madero film. The series was also controversial. Complaints were made about the violent content and MBS abruptly cancelled the series after airing the twentieth, on 3 September, 1947. No Madero film materialized.

Webb next starred on a similar series, CBS’s Jeff Regan, Investigator. In 1949 he returned to Pat Novak… for Hire where he resumed role of the title character. After completing one season of Novak, he debuted the character with which we would forever after be associated, Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet


Breen and Webb again collaborated in 1951, on Pete Kelly’s Blues, about a jazz musician (Webb was a huge jazz aficionado) in Kansas City, Missouri. The snappy dialogue showed that Breen still had it but Dragnet remained Webb's main vehicle. They again collaborated on Appointment With Danger (1951), a film version of Pete Kelly's Blues (1955, dir. Webb), 24 Hour Alert, and both runs of the Dragnet TV series.


Johnny Madero, Pier 23 -- "Episode No. 9"

Today only two episodes of Johnny Madero, Pier 23 are known to survive. "Episode No. 9" features the great John Garfield. The other episode is "Episode No. 10." 

Credit to the folks at Digital Deli Too for their research, accuracy, and several of the images.

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