A look at Crime Correspondent

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 8, 2014 10:48am | Post a Comment

The overwhelming success of Dragnet -- surely the greatest police procedural on radio -- predictably led to the creation of several similar programs. Dragnet's network, NBC, offered several more twists on the genre. Perhaps the best was Tales of the Texas Rangers which sounds as if it might be a juvenile western but was actually an excellent Texas-set police (or Ranger) procedural. Confession, was a fascinating and too-short-lived criminal procedural that dramatized true crimes from the perspectives of the convicted. 


NBC's network CBS somewhat successfully countered with The Line Up (a procedural set in New York City), 21st Precinct (another New York procedural), and the absolutely fascinating Night Watch -- one of the first unscripted "reality" shows in which a police recorder rode with Culver City PD to the scenes of actual crimes. Someone recently told me about another CBS crime drama of which I hadn't heard, Crime Correspondent. I was intrigued.

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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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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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Suspense - Radio's outstanding theater of thrills

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 23, 2014 01:36pm | Post a Comment

Lurene Tuttle (left) and Rosalind Russell in "The Sisters" (9 December, 1948)

On 17 June, 1942, the anthology Suspense debuted on CBS Radio. The long-running series, which anticipated television programs like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, concluded in 1962, an occasion now usually cited as signalling the end of radio's Golden Age.

The formula of Suspense was similar to that of another excellent anthology of the day, The Whistler. In most episodes a crime occurs shortly after the program begins. Suspense is heightened as the drama unfolds. In the end justice prevails and the program concludes. Suspense succeeds where lesser anthologies often failed through good production, usually-taut writing, and the presence of some of the biggest names in Hollywood including giants like Bela Lugosi, Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Joan CrawfordJohn Garfield, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Lena Horne, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Paul Muni, Peter Lorre, among others -- who were often cast against type (especially in the case of actors mostly thought of as comedians like Jack BennyLucille Ball, and Red Skelton). 

Joan Crawford in "The Ten Years" (2 June, 1949)


The audition episode was an adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1926 silent film, The Lodger, and was also directed by Hitchcock. It aired on a 22 July, 1940 episode of the program, Forecast and was Hitchcock's American radio directorial debut.


The first episode was called "The Burning Court." The programs were initially hosted by the mysterious, omniscient "Man in Black" (voiced by Joseph Kearns or Ted Osborne). In its early years, Suspense episodes almost always were in the mystery/thriller vein although there were occasional forays into fantasy, horror, and science-fiction. It bounced around the schedule five times before the end of 1943, when it moved to Thursday. 


One of the best-remembered episodes from Suspense's first season was "The Hitchhiker," which aired on 2 September, 1942, and starred Orson Welles as a cross-country motorist haunted by a mysterious hitchhiker who continues to appear at every turn. It was later adapted into a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone and seems to have directly or indirectly inspired the 1962 film Carnival of Souls.


One of my favorite aspects of listening to old time radio dramas are the advertisements, especially when they're promoting a product that no longer exists. If anyone in the 21st Century knows of Roma Wines they're almost certainly a fan of Suspense and have tasted their delicious sauterne. CBS sustained Suspense until Roma Wines became the program's sponsor in 1943. 

Roma was a Fresno-based winemaker and boasted in their ads that they were "America’s largest selling wine” (during an era when Americans drank FAR more liquor and beer) and that Roma was “Made in California for enjoyment throughout the world.” They seem to have been absorbed into a larger company in the 1970s.

Agnes Moorehead in Sorry, Wrong Number
Agnes Moorehead starring in several versions of "Sorry, Wrong Number"

Perhaps even more popular than "The Hitchhiker" was an episode which first aired on 25 May, 1943, titled "Sorry, Wrong Number." It starred Agnes Moorehead as an hysterical, bedridden woman who accidentally overhears a murder plot on the phone but is unable to convince the police to take action and grows more and more unhinged as the plot twist unfolds. In fact, it was so popular that it was restaged seven more times, each time starring Moorehead, and adapted into two films of the same name -- one in 1948 and starring Barbara Stanwyck and the other in 1989 and starring Loni Anderson


Apparently encouraged by Suspense's success and mistakingly equating length with quality (as many filmmakers do today), half hour program was stretched to an hour in January 1948. The Man in Black was done away with and replaced with actor, House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) cooperator, and that year's Oscar host, Robert Montgomery. The bloated version ran until May, when it was thankfully trimmed back to fighting fitness.


Following its return to the 30 minute format, spark plug manufacturer Autolite began sponsoring the show in July 1948 and continued to do so until June 1954. Beginning in 1949, Autolite also began sponsoring a live broadcast television version of Suspense for CBS although, like most radio programs adapted for television, it was inferior to the original. It ended with Autolite's sponsorship in 1954, although it was briefly revived in 1962. It was also during Autolite's sponsorship that two attempts were made to cash in on the success of Suspense by producing two short-run magazines of the same name, one in 1946 and '47 and the other in 1951 and '52. 


Actor/producer/director Elliott "Mr. Radio" Lewis and his wife Cathy assumed the co-producers' roles on Suspense from 1950 until 1956. Elliott Lewis also directed the program from 1951 until 1954. From 1952 until 1954 he was also producing,  writing, directing, and performing in his own production, the excellent but sadly short-lived Crime Classics. Although the Lewis years are fondly remembered by today's fans of Suspense, it was during the 1952-1953 season that the series' popularity began to decline as audiences increasingly turned away from radio to television.


After Autolite ended their sponsorship of Suspense in 1954, CBS and various sponsors (like Alpine CigarettesParliament Cigarettes, and Pepsi-Cola), sustained the program and it once again began bouncing around various nights of the week. Lewis left his role as producer in 1956 and was succeeded by Antony Ellis, William N. Robson and others. As the networks increasingly shifted their efforts to television, budgets were cut and to cut costs, episodes were adapted from other anthologies like Escape (1947-1954) and The Mysterious Traveler (1943-1952). 

After the departure of the Lewises, most of the big Hollywood actors stopped coming around -- although loyal listeners could still count on regular appearances from radio stalwarts like Agnes Moorehead, Frank Lovejoy, Joseph Cotten, Parley BaerRaymond BurrVincent Price, and William Conrad at least until the end of 1959. 


Suspense was actually first cancelled in 1960, following the November airing of an episode titled "Home Is Where You Find It." It was revived the following June with  "Call Me At Half-Past." What proved to be the final episode, "Devil Stone," aired on the same day as the final episode of another long-running series, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, 30 September, 1962. The program had debuted shortly after the US had entered World War II. By its end, the country was ramping up for an invasion of Vietnam

946 episodes of Suspense were produced in its twenty year run and roughly 900 are known to still exist. All known surviving episodes have been compiled and released on compact discs (quality varies greatly), which are filed in the Spoken Word section at Amoeba. Episodes are also available for streaming or download on the Internet Archive. My favorite way to hear them is by tuning into Radio AM 1710 Antioch, a the best listener-supported online Old Time Radio station which, whenever possible, airs old radio drama episodes on the same date as it originally aired. 

Episodes of the television series have been released on several DVD box sets from Infinity Entertainment Group


Writers: E. Jack Neuman, George Wells, Hugh Pentecost, J. Donald Wilson, Jack Johnstone (often as Jonathan Bundy),  James Poe, John Dickson Carr, John R. Forrest, John Shaw, Joseph CochranLarry Roman, Louis Pelletier, Lucille Fletcher, Mel Dinelli, Peter FernandezRobert CorcoranRobert L. Richards, Robert Tallman, Ronald DawsonSigmund Miller, and Walter Newman, amongst others

Directors: Anthony Ellis, Anton M. Leader, Bruno Zirato, Jr., Charles Vanda, Elliott Lewis, Fred Hendrickson, John Dietz, Jr., Norman MacDonnell, Robert Lewis Shayon, Ted Bliss, and William N. Robson

Producers: Bruno Zirato, Jr., Cathy Lewis, Elliott Lewis, Norman MacDonnell, William N. Robson, and William Spier.

Music: Bernard Herrmann, Alexander Semmler, Lucien Morawek, and Wilbur Hatch

Announcers: Berry Kroeger, George Walsh, Joseph KearnsLarry ThorPaul Frees, and William Johnstone


Stories start in many ways -- a look back at old time radio's Night Beat

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 20, 2014 02:45pm | Post a Comment
In the Golden Age of Radio, NBC produced some of the medium's best crime dramas, programs like The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Sam Spade, ConfessionDragnet, and Tales of the Texas Rangers. Another -- although sadly not well-remembered today -- was Night Beat, which debuted on 6 February, 1950 and aired not just in the US, but Australia and South Africa as well. 

The plot of Night Beat revolves around a reporter named Randy Stone who works for the fictional Chicago Star newspaper. In the process of writing his human interest column, "Night Beat," Stone passes in and out of the lives of night owls, underworld figures, lost souls, and other denizens of an improbably noir Chicago

Night Beat's first audition aired in May of 1949. Taking a grittier approach than is found in the final product, it starred the well-known celluloid tough guy Edmond O'Brien (A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob, An Act of Murder, White Heat, D.O.A.), was directed by William Rousseau (Pat Novak... for Hire), and written by Larry Marcus (Backfire, Dark City, and a few years later, Witness for the Prosecution).

By then radio was then rapidly losing its audience to television. Although NBC television programming began in 1940 with Meet the Wife, it wasn't until 1948 -- when the Milton Berle vehicle Texaco Star Theatre debuted -- that NBC seemed to lose all interest in its radio programming. As television raked in the dough by focusing increasingly on children's programing and family-friendly fare, radio attempted to remain relevant by producing innovative and intelligent programming that television had no room for.

Nonetheless, eager to please skittish network executives unsure about radio's future, the National Association of Broadcasters self-imposed a curfew on crime dramas, relegating them to later time slots than other sorts of programs. Sponsors had to be pleased and using the same script, a second audition for Night Beat was produced under the direction of Bill Karn (Gang Busters, Dangerous Assignment, and Ma Barker's Killer Brood) and starring Frank Lovejoy. The softer version was OKed and the program was sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Wheaties

Frank Lovejoy was a seasoned radio and film actor who'd earlier starred on Gang Busters and played the Blue Beetle (one of the few, almost completely-forgotten Golden Age of Comic Books superheroes) on the radio program of the same name. He was born Frank Andrew Lovejoy, Jr. in the Bronx in 1912 and grew up in New Jersey. Lovejoy's portrayal of Stone wasn't just more audience (and sponsor) friendly, it was sensitive and nuanced, balancing Stone's hard-boiled toughness with sensitivity, compassion, and likeability. 

Stone was equal parts reporter, crusader, and nocturnal flâneur. Week after week Stone somehow finds the strength to fight battles in an unwinable moral crusade, get into all sorts of trouble in the process (often ending up worse for wear as with his detective peers), and type up his piece in time to yell "copy boy" so that it can go out with the early edition. 

Perhaps the frequency with which Stone became deeply involved in murder, mayhem, Tong wars, et cetera and the speed and facility with which they're wrapped up is, well, ridiculous but unlike most series of its sort there was a measurable degree of continuity from episode to episode. At it's worse Night Beat was formluaic but above average -- at its best it's among the best of the genre.

From the beginning, Larry Marcus stayed on the series with Mary Marcus, both serving as editors. Warren Lewis (Cavalcade of AmericaFour Star PlayhouseYancy Derringer) was brought on as director. Frank Worth composed the timpani-fueled intro and wonderfully Gershwin-esque score. The announcer was Donald Newton Rickles (The Whisperer, The Great Gildersleeve, and The NBC University Theatre). Supporting actors included many of radio's biggest and most-prolific talents including Ben WrightHoward McNearJack KruschenJeff CoreyJoan BanksLawrence DobkinLurene Tuttle,Martha WentworthParley BaerPaul FreesPeter Leeds, and William Conrad

Radio being the "theater of the mind," a lot of series' artistic success hinged on the show's wring and the writing on Night Beat was usually top notch. The pictures it created are vivid and, in the case of Stone's journalism, enjoyably florid but never quite over-the-top. Some of the series' best writers were E. Jack Neuman (Suspense and The Adventures of Sam Spade), Kathleen Hite (CBS's first female staff writer and later writer for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Gunsmoke), and Russell Hughes (The House Across the StreetCustoms Agent, and later, Them!). Other writers include David EllisIrwin AshkenazieJoel HuntJohn Bagni and Gwen BagniJohn RobinsonLarry RomanLou RusoffMarty WilkensonMerwyn GerardRussell Bender, and Selig Lester

NBC seems to have never believed in Night Beat and for most of its run was happy to bounce it around various nights and time slots. There were about 104 episodes and roughly 74 are currently in circulation. The final episode aired 25 September, 1952. Night Beat was adapted for television with an episode of the anthology series, Four Star Playhouse titled “Search in the Night.” In it, Lovejoy resumed his old role and it aired on 5 November, 1953. It's possible that it was produced as a pilot for a television series but whatever the case, that didn't happen.

Ironically, after he was replaced by Lovejoy, O'Brien went on to play the truly bland (and therefore much more popular) title character on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar -- a radio drama whose conclusion in 1962 is usually viewed as the end of old time radio. Lovejoy went on to appear on Suspicion and star in Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker. He died on 2 October, 1962 from a heart attack at his residence in New York City. Recordings of Night Beat and other Old Time Radio shows can be found in Amoeba's Spoken Word section.

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