Monday, November 19, 2012

The Great Detectives of OTR

Call it Hard-Boiled. Call it Classic. Call it Noir. Call it what you like. But when it comes to detective fiction it's hard to beat the lineup of great detectives shows that were produced during The Golden Age of Radio. Old time radio (OTR) presented listeners with an outstanding variety of wisecracking, pistol packing, knock your teeth out, tough as nails gumshoes and cops. The following is a list of great detective radio dramas that are still highly enjoyable and entertaining today.

1. Sam Spade

Dashiell Hamett's The Adventure's of Sam Spade made its debut on CBS radio in August of 1946 and ended in 1951 after airing 246 shows. Howard Duff (pictured above) voiced the role of hard hitting private eye Sam Spade and Lurene Tuttle was his lovably loyal secretary Effie Perrine. The brash and bold, witty and charming Spade took on all comers from tough guy thugs to sweet talking dames. No episode was ever short on gritty action, drama, or suspense. Sam Spade was an immediate hit with listeners and sponsors alike. In fact, it was so successful that it spawned a litany of private detectives shows in its wake. The Adventures of Sam Spade endures to this day as perhaps the greatest hard-boiled radio drama adventure ever created. So if you're in the mood for a classic detective caper we suggest you call on Sam Spade.

2. Philip Marlowe
Writer Raymond Chandler's classic tough guy detective hit the airwaves for CBS on September 26, 1948 with Gerald Mohr (pictured above) as the voice of the gritty no nonsense detective. Mohr's deep baritone voice perfectly fit the cynical detective's style and by 1949 The Adventures of Philip Marlowe would have the largest audience on radio. A trend that would continue for three more years. Using the Sam Spade formula for success: wisecracking tough guys and sultry dames coupled with lots of action, drama, suspense, wit and charm Philip Marlowe became one of the most well received shows on radio. Today it's still stands as one of the best detective series ever created.

3. Richard Diamond

Richard Diamond, Private Detective debuted on NBC in 1949 with Dick Powell as the slick talking, sophisticated tough guy gumshoe. Each show opened with Powell whistling the show's theme and generally closed with him singing a popular song to his girl Helen Asher (played by Virginia Gregg). Richard Diamond wasn't your standard P.I. show as it contained vastly more humor than either the Spade or Marlowe programs. However, fist fights and flying bullets were never in short supply. Diamond routinely sparred verbally with Lt. Walt Levinson (voiced by Ed Begley then later by Arthur Q. Bryan) and Sergeant Otis (Wilms Herbert) of the police force providing a more balanced atmosphere than many of the other detective series of its day. The stories were more than well written by Pink Panther (Inspector Clouseau) creator Blake Edwards. As radio detectives goes Richard Diamond is as good as they get. 

4. Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

For nearly thirteen years (1949-1962 minus a year long hiatus in 1955) "America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator, the man with the action packed expense account" Johnny Dollar entertained listeners with action packed investigations all over the world. During the shows run no less than eight actors played the role of Dollar. Dick Powell (Richard Diamond) played the title role in the original audition performance. Interestingly Gerald Mohr (Philip Marlowe) auditioned for the role of Dollar in 1955 losing out to the actor who would ultimately become the most popular actor to voice the role, Bob Bailey (pictured above). Originally the character of Dollar was played as the typical hard-boiled detective sort. However, when Bailey took over the role he toned down the character of Dollar making him into a tough, streetwise investigator who was smart and sometimes too emotionally involved. The new interpretation worked well as the show had its most successful run during the Bob Bailey years. Many of the episodes from this series have been preserved and can still be enjoyed by those who delight in noir genre radio drama. For detective lovers, this one comes highly recommended. - Yours Truly Johnny Dollar.

5. Dragnet

Dun, ta dun dunt... dun ta dunt, dunt, dun. "Ladies and gentlemen the story you're about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." Whether a fan of radio drama or not most people instantly recognize the opening theme and the words that followed. Dragnet was the brainchild of actor Jack Webb. Inspired by the film He Walked By Night, which he had a part in, and the high profile Black Dahlia investigation Webb conceived the idea for Dragnet. Based on official L.A.P.D. case files the show chronicled step by step every aspect of police work. The dialogue was clipped and the stories fast moving and highly entertaining all in an effort to stay with "Just the facts." Sergeant Joe Friday's deadpan, fast talking persona appeal even today and "Dragnet, the documented drama of an actual crime"continues to be as entertaining as it ever was.

6. Tales of the Texas Rangers

Movie star Joel McCrea starred as Ranger Jayce Pearson in Tales of the Texas Rangers a procedural documentary similar to that of Dragnet. Based on actual files of the Texas Rangers the series was set in the modern era of Texas (1928-1948) rather than the old west. Fast paced with hard hitting, realistic gritty action the series was the modern era equivalent of it's radio western counterpart Gunsmoke. The action varied in location from urban to rural. A chase scene, for example, could as easily take place in a vehicle as it could on horseback. The popular series aired on NBC from July 8, 1950 to September 14, 1952. The content is just as enjoyable now as it was in 1950.

7. Rocky Jordan

Rocky Jordan (played by Jack Moyles) was a hard-boiled detective who left St. Louis, Missouri and relocated to Cairo, Egypt to escape his enemies. Rocky owns and operates the cafe Tambourine. Here in his gin-joint he encounters every variety of despot you can imagine from ex-Nazi's, murders, thieves, smugglers, expatriated American thugs on the run to down on their luck dames. At times Rocky Jordan feels like a poor man's hodgepodge of Casablanca meets The Maltese Falcon but it provides top notch action, romance and mystery for listeners. Sam Sabaaya, Captain of the Cairo police, is a friend of sorts to Jordan who's always willing to give him a fair shake. However, Sabaaya's second in command, Sergeant Greco, has no love for Jordan and anytime something happens Jordan is immediately his primary suspect. Running from 1945 to 1953 the series entertained for several years on the radio. Today many of the episodes still exist and are still most gratifying. 

8. Mr. and Mrs. North

Pam and Jerry North (originally voiced by Alice Frost and Joseph Curtin then by Barbara Britton and Richard Denning [pictured above]) aren't your normal detectives. In fact, they not really detectives at all. Jerry works as a book publisher and Pam's a housewife. But the two always seem to wind up getting involved in mysteries and the only way out is to solve them. Fortunately for them they have a friend in the police department, Lt. Bill Weigand in Homicide. Superbly written, Mr. and Mrs. North let listeners play along by allowing the audience to have the clues giving them the opportunity to solve the crime before Pam and Jerry. The series ran from 1942 - 1954 but could just as easily air today with certain success.

9. Box 13

 Alan Ladd starred as Dan Holiday the fiction writer with the ad in the paper stating "Adventure wanted. Will go anywhere, do anything. Reply to... Box 13." Though not a detective Dan Holiday often found himself involved in events that required him to decipher clues, gather information and get answers to solve a puzzle, usually life threatening. Action, adventure and intrigue are always found in Box 13. Though it only ran for one season the series is a can't miss when it comes to investigative entertainment.

10. Nick Carter, Master Detective

Nick Carter (Lon Clark [pictured above]) is a master detective and Patsy Bowen (Helen Choate, later Charolette Manson [pictured above]) is his assistant. Together with legman (investigator) "Scubby" Wilson (John Kane) no crime is too tough to tackle and before long they'll have the case solved. Based on the pulp magazine of the same name Nick Carter brought a bit more of a soft-boiled flare to the genre. Carter was a brains first, brawn second detective that worked in tandem with his friends to solve crimes. Though a little more lighthearted in it's presentation than other detective series Nick Carter, Master Detective is an enjoyable adventure worthy of being included among the great noir shows of the past. It more than stands the test of time. The series aired from 1943-1955.

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