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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. 




*****

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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Six Shooter -- The Radio Western Starring Jimmy Stewart Debuted 20 September, 1953

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 20, 2013 02:16pm | Post a Comment


On this date (20 September) in 1953, one of my favorite old time radio Westerns debuted on NBC -- Six Shooter. It was created and written by Frank Burt, who'd also written for The WhistlerThe Man Called X, and The Unexpected. It was produced by Jack Johnstone (Buck Rogers, The CBS Radio Workshop, Richard DiamondSomebody KnowsYours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and others). The music director, Basil Adlam, arranged and conducted the theme,Ralph Vaughan Williams’s "The Highland Lament." The announcers were Hal Gibney (and John Wald), who introduced each episode with the words "The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged. His skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both "the Six Shooter."

The only recurring character was Britt Ponset – played with greatness by Jimmy Stewart, who'd been interested in starring in a radio drama for some time before Six Shooter. Other actors that frequently appeared on the series included Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell, Howard McNear, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Alan Reed, Marvin Miller and William Conrad (though often credited as "Julius Krelboyne" since, at the same time, he was starring on Gunsmoke over at NBC's rival network, CBS).


ADULT WESTERNS

Six Shooter is one of the finest examples of the Adult Western (no, I'm not talking about Bareback Mountain or How the West Was Hung). Unlike their juvenile counterparts in which a quick-draw sheriff in all white nearly always disposes of the villain in all black in a duel, Adult Westerns were more concerned with inner turmoil and moral gray areas, leading some to call them Western Noir.

The subgenre first arose in the 1940s with radio westerns like Hawk Durango (1946) and Hawk Larabee (1946) and films like I Shot Jesse James (1949). In the early 1950s, when TV began to erode the audiences of both film and radio with family-friendly fare, both film and radio responded by offering more examples of Adult Westerns with movies like Winchester '73 (1950) and High Noon (1952) and radio series like Frontier Town (1952) and best of all, Gunsmoke (1952).


JIMMY STEWART

Six Shooter had something in its chamber that most radio programs didn’t – a movie star – in this case, Jimmy Stewart. As Britt Ponset, Stewart portrayed the wandering gunslinger as a reluctant, yet highly efficient, ronin cowboy. As is still mostly the case, even then film, radio, and TV stars rarely dabbled in more than one format (as they were and are competitors). Stewart was primarily a film actor, having built a reputation on films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), among others.

His first adult western film had been Destry Rides Again (1939). Beginning with 1949’s Winchester '73, Stewart also began a fruitful collaboration on a series of noir-influenced adult western films with director Anthony Mann which continued with Bend of the River (1952) and Naked Spur (1953) before coming to radio.

Six Shooter
wasn’t Stewart's first foray into radio.  He'd previously graced anthology programs like Lux Radio Theater's The Screen Guild Theater as well as Screen Guild Theater, Theater Guild of the Air and others with his widely-imitated, slow, fumbly, South Midland drawl. He also appeared numerous times as a guest on radio variety shows. Six Shooter, however, was his first and only starring radio role. 


THE PRECURSOR AND AUDITION 

On 13 April, 1952, NBC's Hollywood Star Playhouse anthology series aired an episode called "The Six Shooter" that -- like the series to come -- was written by Burt, directed by Johnstone, and starred Jimmy Stewart. A subsidiary of MCA-TV called Revue Productions expressed interest in fleshing out the episode into a series and reunited its participants. 

The following year the group produced an audition script with guest stars William Conrad as Sheriff Ed Scofield, Ben Scofield as the sheriff's son, Parley Baer as Fred Wilmer, and Herb Vigran as 'Heavy' Norton, the town blacksmith. 


SERIES PICKED UP



Less than a month later, Coleman Home Heaters became the series' sponsor. It debuted on 20 September and ran for 39 more episodes. The episodes veered between tense action and light comedy, sometimes in a single program. In most, Ponset found himself drawn into a situation that he often ended up reluctantly shooting his way out of. It seems that the series was popular but Stewart probably found starring on a weekly series and continually making films too time-consuming. Although I haven't seen any reputable sources to confirm it, by most accounts Coleman oddly dropped their sponsorship and Liggett & Meyers stepped in but Stewart was unwilling to star in a show hawking Chesterfields. It seems to me that, since the program was possible, some other sponsor could've been found if Stewart really wanted to continue doing the show. Whatever the reasons, it ended but luckily for modern fans, all episodes of the series remain in circulation today. 


MORE
 SIX SHOOTER

Six Shooter moved to television in 1957, re-titled The Restless Gun, and without the involvement of Stewart or Johnstone but with Burt on board for its two year run as consultant. Instead of Britt Ponset its protagonist was Vint Bonner -- played by John Payne.

Stewart revived the Ponset character for two 1957 episodes of the television anthology series General Electric Theater -- "The Town with a Past" and "The Trail to Christmas" (although in the latter his name was for some reason changed to "Bart"). Two years later, the anthology Startime, based the episode "Cindy's Fella" on Six Shooter's "When the Shoe Doesn't Fit" although in it Stewart played an unnamed character rather than Ponset.


AFTER RADIO

Stewart continued making films (including adult Westerns with Anthony Mann) like The Man from Laramie (1955 -- co-written by Frank Burt), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and many more. In 1989 Stewart published a collection of poetry titled Jimmy Stewart and his Poems that I used to own a copy of although sadly seem to have long ago lost or misplaced. 


*****

Big thanks to the incomparable old time radio researchers at Digital Deli Too. Old Time Radio programs are located in Amoeba's Spoken Word section.

Tales of the Texas Rangers -- Police Procedural with a Lone Star Twist

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 8, 2013 12:42pm | Post a Comment

It took me a while to discover the brilliant radio drama, Tales of the Texas Rangers. I inferred from its name that it was a juvenile Western -- possibly a derivative of The Lone Ranger. Even though The Lone Ranger provided my childhood introduction I have never been a fan of white hat vs. black hat shoot 'em ups. The fact that the Ranger Reid and his taciturn buddy, Tonto, are once again galloping onto the screens of multiplexes does absolutely nothing for me besides lodging Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture into my head on a loop.




Luckily for me, Tales of the Texas Rangers is almost completely unlike The Lone Ranger beyond the fact that the protagonists of both are (or were, in the Lone Ranger's case) members of the Texas Rangers. Tales of the Texas Rangers isn't even a Western, really, any more than Bottle Rocket, Office Space, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, or any other film that happens to be set in Texas of the present day. Tales of the Texas Rangers is actually a police procedural, having more in common with Dragnet and the similarly-technology-fetishizing CSI franchise than even radio noir adult westerns like Gunsmoke. Like Dragnet, the episodes were supposedly based on actual cases handled by the rangers from the late 1920s to the then present. Also like Dragnet, after the apprehension of the criminal, the announcer would state the outcome of the case -- usually a sentence at Huntsville in place of San Quentin.

The program debuted on 8 July, 1950, on NBC. It was directed and produced by Stacy Keach, Sr, who'd initially tried to develop the idea into a film. Technical assistance was provided by retired ranger Manuel "Lone Wolf" Gonzuallas. Barney Phillips, Ed Begley, Frank Martin, Herb Vigran, Ken Christy, Lurene Tuttle, Parley Baer, Reed Haley, Tony Barrett, and Wilms Herbert frequently appeared in guest roles. The announcer was Hal Gibney, who began each episode by animatedly proclaiming, "Texas! More than 260,000 square miles! And fifty men who make up the most famous and oldest enforcement body in North America!"

The tone was measured and suspenseful and the detailed descriptions of crime scenes and forensics were more lurid than anything on TV at the time. Joel Murcott's (The Adventures of Frank Race, M Squad, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Bonanza) writing was consistently quite good and Monty Fraser's vivid sound effects are first rate. Of 95 episodes there are at least 92 episodes currently in circulation.

It starred Joel McCrea as Jace Pearson. South Pasadena-born McCrea was both a film actor and actual cowboy who operated three ranches and reportedly viewed acting as a hobby. In films he rode his own horse, Dollar, and chose his own wardrobe, disliking the distressed look favored by wardrobe departments.

McCrea was sometimes criticized for his supposedly limited range due to the fact that he refused not only to play villains or even less-than-perfect heroes. The only shade of gray associated with Jace Pearson was the fact that his horse was named Charcoal. He also refused to act in anything sponsored by cigarette or alcohol companies. For the first two months Tales of the Texas Rangers was sponsored by the suitably wholesome breakfast cereal, Wheaties. After that it was unsponsored.




Only a moderate commercial success, it ended its run on 14 September, 1952. From 1953 till 1959, Dell Comics ran its comic, Jace Pearson's Tales of the Texas Rangers. The series moved to TV (and CBS) where it aired on Saturday mornings from 1955 until 1958. Predictably the TV series was firmly oriented toward a young audience and offered standard cops 'n' robbers thrills. Less predictably it bounced around the Rangers' then roughly twelve decade timeline without explanation. One week Jace and company would find themselves chasing robbers in the 1950s, another week they'd be fighting Native Americans in the 19th century

Although the TV series is probably fine for young or nostalgiac audiences, the radio program holds up for and fan of well-made procedurals. Radio dramas can be found in Amoeba's Spoken Word section. Click here to connect with other Tales of the Texas Rangers fans on Facebook.
 

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Somebody Knows and Wanted -- Golden Age Radio's great unsolved mysteries

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 2, 2013 12:31pm | Post a Comment

In the wake of Dragnet's success for NBC (after having been rejected by CBS), radio audiences more and more craved authenticity from their crime dramas. Programs like Gang Busters (1936-1957) and This is Your FBI (1945-1953) claimed to be based on authentic cases, but were less realistic and adult in tone than the true crime series of the 1950s. Most of the scores of earlier hard-boiled detective shows were often utterly implausible, even when enjoyable. As they often did, in the summer of 1950, CBS and NBC went head to head with two similar programs that aimed to up the authenticity stakes, Somebody Knows and Wanted.
 

*****

SOMEBODY KNOWS

Somebody Knows debuted on 6 July, 1950 as that year's summer replacement for Suspense (1942-1962). Through narration and dramatizations, the known facts of unsolved crimes were presented and listeners who provided information leading to the conviction of a criminal in one of the profiled cases would get $5,000 for their effort (more than $47,000 in 2013, adjusted for inflation). Unable to find a sponsor, independent series creator Jimmy Saphier put up $40,000 of his own money. In a promotional interview Sapphier stated, "I don't care if we only have one listener. As long as he's the guy who knows who did it--and will rat on his pals." 

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Happy Birthday, Gunsmoke - The Greatest Radio Western of All Time

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 26, 2011 12:24pm | Post a Comment
Gunsmoke was, without question, the greatest radio western of all. It debuted 59 years ago today, on April 26th, 1952. Having been exposed to juvenile westerns like The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder as well as the boring Gunsmoke TV series, for a long time I avoided the radio program. Besides, it was set in Kansas.
 
Then one day, I tuned in to an episode already in progress. Not knowing what it was, I didn't immediately change the station and was drawn into what sounded like a vivid, violent film noir, albeit set in 19th century Dodge City. When I realized it was Gunsmoke, I was surprised to say the least, but also hopelessly hooked.
 

Gunsmoke was created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston at the behest of CBS's programming chief, Hubell Robinson. His boss, CBS chairman William S. Paley, was a fan of another classic CBS program, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Robinson had suggested to the West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to create a 
"Philip Marlowe of the Old West" in the 1940s.
 
In 1949, Ackerman and the famed scriptwriting duo of Mort Fine and David Friedkin created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Crooked Wheel." It starred Michael Rye as Matt Dillon. A second audition used Howard Culver, who employed a lighter approach. CBS OKed the latter but Ackerman's contract as the star of Straight Arrow (on the Mutual Network) interfered. Gunsmoke was thus shelved until three years later, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it whilst working on their own adult-oriented western.
 

The new version cast the inimitable William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell and Parley Baer as deputy Chester Proudfoot. The writers sought to create the first realistic western, one populated by sociopaths and without untarnished heroes. Stories unflinchingly depicted rape, lynchings, murder, prostitution, scalping, massacres, theft, drug addiction and more. Justice was often not served. 

What made the dark tone even darker was the unrivaled sound effects department, who created the most vivid and soundscape I've ever heard on any radio program through use of subtlety and multiple layers of rich and realistic sound.
 

Almost immediately there was discussion about adapting the hit program for TV. MacDonnell was naturally reluctant. TV was almost always sanitized, neutered and dumbed-down almost beyond recognition. CBS didn't care. The radio cast was given a token audition out of respect although they were never serious. Though an amazing actor with a great voice, William Conrad was not traditionally photogenic. The portly Kentuckian looked old for his age. His TV replacement was the square-jawed, tall James Arness... the sort of spotless archetype the radio program so successfully avoided. The pictures taken at Knotts Berry Farm, given the fact that it was all show, make the charade all the more sad.
 
The TV series went on until 1975. The radio series ended in 1961, only one year before the date generally given as the death of old time radio. Lucky for those of us too young to have caught it the first time around, Gunsmoke remains popular on internet radio stations and episodes are available for purchase on CD.