Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Revisiting Suspense!

Suspense, one of the premier drama programs of the Golden Age of Radio, was subtitled "radio's outstanding theater of thrills" and focused on suspense thriller-type scripts, usually featuring leading Hollywood actors of the era. Approximately 945 episodes were broadcast during its long run, and more than 900 are extant.

Suspense went through several major phases, characterized by different hosts, sponsors, and director/producers. Formula plot devices were followed for all but a handful of episodes: the protagonist was usually a normal person suddenly dropped into a threatening or bizarre situation; solutions were "withheld until the last possible second"; and evildoers were usually punished in the end.

In the earliest years, the program was hosted by "The Man in Black" (played by Joseph Kearns or Ted Osborne) with many episodes written or adapted by the prominent mystery author John Dickson Carr.

"This is The Man in Black, here again to introduce Columbia's program, Suspense. Our stars tonight are..."

The well-written Suspense radio dramas are easily some of my all-time favorite vintage radio programs.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Life of Riley

In honor of all the great father's out there, including my own, this is the second of two posts today honoring two very wonderful father figures from radio's golden age...

The Life of Riley, with William Bendix in the title role, is a popular American radio situation comedy series of the 1940s that was adapted into a 1949 feature film, a long-run 1950s television series (originally with Jackie Gleason as Riley for 1 truncated season, then with Bendix for 6 seasons), and a 1958 Dell comic book.
The show began as a proposed Groucho Marx radio series, The Flotsam Family, but the sponsor balked at what would have been essentially a straight head-of-household role for the comedian. (Groucho went on to host Blue Ribbon Town from 1943 to 1944 and then You Bet Your Life from 1947 to 1961.) Then producer Irving Brecher saw Bendix as taxicab company owner Tim McGuerin in Hal Roach's The McGuerins from Brooklyn (1942). The Flotsam Family was reworked with Bendix cast as blundering Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at the fictional Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. His frequent exclamation of indignation became one of the most famous catchphrases of the 1940s: "What a revoltin' development this is!" The radio series benefited from the immense popularity of a supporting character, Digby "Digger" O'Dell (John Brown), "the friendly undertaker."

The first Life of Riley radio show was a summer replacement show heard on CBS from April 12, 1941 to September 6, 1941. The CBS program starred Lionel Stander as J. Riley Farnsworth and had no real connection with the more famous series that followed a few years later.
The radio program starring William Bendix as Riley initially aired on the Blue Network, later known as ABC, from January 16, 1944 to June 8, 1945. Then it moved to NBC, where it was broadcast from September 8, 1945 to June 29, 1951. The supporting cast featured Paula Winslowe portraying Peg, Riley's wife, as well as John Brown, who portrayed not only undertaker "Digger" O'Dell but also Riley's co-worker Jim Gillis. (Brown also played the character of Waldo Binny.) Whereas Gillis gave Riley bad information that got him into trouble, Digger gave him good information that "helped him out of a hole," as he might have put it. Brown's lines as the undertaker were often repetitive, including puns based on his profession; but, thanks to Brown's delivery, the audience loved him. The program was broadcast live with a studio audience, most of whom were not aware Brown played both characters. As a result, when Digger delivered his first line, it was usually greeted with howls of laughter and applause from surprised audience members.

Source: Wikipedia

Of course...Father Knows Best!

In honor of all the great father's out there, including my own, this is the first of two posts today honoring two very wonderful father figures from radio's golden age...

Father Knows Best is an American radio and television comedy series which portrayed a middle class family life in the Midwest. It was created by writer Ed James in the 1940s.

The series began August 25, 1949, on NBC Radio. Set in the Midwest, it starred Robert Young as the General Insurance agent Jim Anderson. His wife Margaret was first portrayed by June Whitley and later by Jean Vander Pyl. The Anderson children were Betty (Rhoda Williams), Bud (Ted Donaldson), and Kathy (Norma Jean Nillson). Others in the cast were Eleanor Audley, Herb Vigran and Sam Edwards. Sponsored through most of its run by General Foods, the series was heard Thursday evenings on NBC until March 25, 1954.
On the radio program, the character of Jim differs from the later television character. The radio Jim is far more sarcastic and shows he really "rules" over his family. Jim also calls his children names, something common on radio but lost in the TV series. For example, Jim says, "What a bunch of stupid children I have." Margaret is portrayed as a paragon of solid reason and patience, unless the plot calls for her to act a bit off. For example, in a Halloween episode, Margaret cannot understand how the table floats in the air, but that is a rare exception.

Betty, on radio, is portrayed as a status seeking, boy-crazy teenage girl. To her, every little thing is "the worst thing that could ever happen." Bud, on radio, is portrayed as an "all-American" boy who always seems to need "just a bit more" money, though he gets $1.25 per week in allowance (equal to $11.52 today). Bud is in charge of always having to answer the front door, which he hates. He is also shown as a somewhat dim boy who takes everything literally; for example, Jim might say "Go jump in the lake," to which Bud would reply "Okay, Dad; which lake should I go jump into?" He also uses the phrase "Holy Cow" to express displeasure. On radio, Kathy often is portrayed as a source of irritation. She whines, cries and complains about her status in the family as overlooked. She often is the source of money to her brother and sister, although she is in hock several years on her own allowance.

The Television series began on CBS on October 3, 1954. Originally sponsored by Lorillard's Kent cigarettes in its first season, Scott Paper Company became the primary sponsor when the series moved to NBC in the fall of 1955, remaining as sponsor even after it moved back to CBS in September 1958, with Lever Brothers as an alternate sponsor from 1957 through 1960. A total of 203 episodes were produced, running until September 17, 1960, and appearing on all three of the television networks of the time, including prime-time repeats from September 1960 through April 1963.

Sources: Wikipedia and

Television episodes of Father Knows Best can also be seen on Hulu.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nero Wolfe

Nero Wolfe is a fictional detective, created in 1934 by the American mystery writer Rex Stout. Wolfe's confidential assistant Archie Goodwin narrates the cases of the detective genius. Stout wrote 33 novels and 39 short stories from 1934 to 1974, with most of them set in New York City. Wolfe's residence, a luxurious brownstone on West 35th Street, features prominently in the series. Many radio, television and film adaptations were made from his works.
The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated for Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon 2000, the world's largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was a nominee for Best Mystery Writer of the Century.

Nero Wolfe made his way to radio in 1943 in The Adventures of Nero Wolfe for ABC. Three actors portrayed Nero Wolfe over the course of the series. J.B. Williams starred in its first incarnation, broadcast Wednesdays on the New England Network (April 7–June 30, 1943). Santos Ortega assumed the role when the suspense drama moved to ABC on Mondays (July 5–September 27, 1943) and Fridays (January 21–July 14, 1944). Luis Van Rooten succeeded Ortega in 1944, Nero Wolfe's last year on ABC.

"Santos Ortega played Wolfe," wrote John McAleer in Rex Stout: A Biography. "John Gibson was Archie. Gibson was breezy and Ortega wheezy — indeed, he opened the program with a wheeze, as his signature... Rex thought the actors were creditable but winced at the plots. He never listened to the broadcasts... Louis Vittes was the chief scriptwriter and wrote most of the scripts. None of Rex's story material was used. All characters beside Wolfe, Archie and Cramer were ABC's own. For the use of Wolfe and Archie, Rex received a weekly royalty.
"Differences between (ABC producer) Hi Brown and Edwin Fadiman, who represented Rex's radio, screen and television interests, as Nero Wolfe Attractions, Inc., prevented its later resumption on ABC," McAleer reported. "This fact Brown regretted. 'Nero Wolfe,' Brown says, 'is one of the strongest and most successful detective characters in all of fiction.'"

"The series next surfaced early in 1946, on Sundays, on the Mutual Network," wrote Stout biographer John McAleer, "with Francis X. Bushman, one-time movie idol, as Wolfe, and Elliott Lewis as Archie. ... The scripts once again were network originals. The humor verged on slapstick." The concluding show in the series, "The Case of the Shakespeare Folio," aired December 15, 1946.

1950 -- 1951 Series: "THE NEW ADVENTURES OF NERO WOLFE" (25 episodes)
NETWORK: NBC, SPONSOR: SUSTAINED, TIME: Fridays: 8:00 - 8:30 pm
STARS: Sidney Greenstreet as Nero Wolfe. Archie played by various actors
WRITER: Louis Vittes based on the stories by Rex Stout; ANNOUNCER: Don Stanley; PRODUCER: Edwin Fadiman; DIRECTOR: J. Donald Wilson.
1982, 60 minutes
Mavor Moore and Don Francks
in the CBC Radio drama series Nero Wolfe.

In 1982, Canadian actor, producer, writer and cultural pioneer Mavor Moore (1919–2006) starred as Nero Wolfe in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's 13-episode radio series Nero Wolfe (a.k.a. Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe). Don Francks portrayed Archie Goodwin, and Cec Linder played Inspector Cramer.

Sources: Nero Wolfe Wikipedia and Nero Wolfe(radio) via Wikipedia