The Pepsodent Show with Bob Hope – 1941


My Review

—Typical, But Fun, Bogart Guest Star—

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 2

The Lowdown

Hope spends the first ten minutes pushing Pepsodent and horsing around with his usual cronies before introducing Bogart for some goofy tough-guy jokes and a skit. What’s fun to note is that the house band must have been worth the price of admission alone as I could have listened to them for another half an hour.

What I Thought

The comedy is pretty standard fare for Hope. Some jokes are clever – (On going to the beach) “A lot of people change their bathing suits in their cars, which I think is disgusting. Especially when it’s so much easier to do it on the bus.”

Some jokes went so far over my head that I had to use Google to know what he was talking about – (On a wedding he attended) “What a wedding. The bride was carrying four roses . . . rather well.” (Four Roses is a brand of bourbon.)

And then there’s your standard rhyming pun stuff that Hope loved to do as in this ad for Pepsodent – “Even if you don’t get flowers from your feller, if you use Pepsodent, you’ll get white lilies under your smeller.”

The good news is that Bogart gets two segments in the show. The first is just standing around with Hope playing up his tough guy persona (his handkerchief is so tough it goes off like a gun when it comes out of his pocket) and giving one of Hope’s sidekicks romantic advice. (Bogart ends up kissing his gal with PLENTY of radio sound effect smooches.)

The best segment comes last though, as we’re treated to a very Prairie Home Companion-ish skit with Hope and Bogart trying to escape from jail.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart knew exactly what the audience wanted from a personal appearance and he delivers here. He plays up his tough guy persona with just a touch of tongue in cheek self-deprecation. (Being in so many violent movies means he has to sleep with the lights on at night!)  And he gets to shine with his gangster accent as he plays a fellow con with Hope trying to escape from jail.

As usual, Hope takes a few too many of the jokes from his guest, but both guys come off well and it’s worth a listen for anyone who likes Bogart’s radio appearances.

The Rest of the Cast

Hope’s joined by some of his regular troublemakers – Bill Goodwin (some great live flubs by Hope here), Professor Jerry Colona, and Skinny Ennis who manages to steal the show multiple times.

Bottom Line

Worth a listen if you can find it to download on an Old Time Radio Podcast, but nothing new if you never catch it.

The Screen Guild Theater Presents: The Petrified Forest – 1940

pet forest

My Review

–Needs More Bogart–

Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

Radio Fixes 2

The Lowdown

For my full synopsis of the plot to The Petrified Forest click here.

What I Thought

This one was just another amazing jewel to be found as an extra on the “Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection” box set. While the play/film was adapted for radio three times, this is the only one starring Bogart as Duke Mantee, and the 24-film box set is the only place that I’ve found to hear it.

The audio is a little muffled, but it’s certainly listenable. My initial gut reaction was something along the lines of, “Where the heck is Bogart?!?” as he doesn’t show up until the very end of Act I, and even after that, his part seems to be considerably shortened from the film version. Yes, it’s a radio adaption, meaning it was shortened by at least 1/3 or more for the broadcast, but still – where’s the Bogart love?

Then I looked back at the date of the airing – January 7, 1940. High Sierra was still a year away, and up until that point, Bogart had mostly been playing a second fiddle gangster to the likes of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, or helming his own crime pics at a much lower B-level.

It’s Tyrone Power and Joan Bennett that get the real time to shine here, and both of them do fine. I’m a little surprised by how much I bought into their romance after being more than a little partial to the pairing of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis from the film. But the chemistry is real here, sharp and energetic, and Power’s drifting writer feels a little more willing to help Bennett’s pouty waitress out of love, rather than pity, as Howard was towards Davis in the original.

Of course, just like the film, the real fireworks start when Bogart comes in. I’ll save my thoughts on his performance until I get to ‘The Bogart Factor’ below, but I will say that the combination of Power/Bennett/Bogart fell a little flat for me.

Overall, it’s interesting to hear Bogart reprise his famous gangster role for the second out of what would be three performances (the original film, this radio broadcast, and then the made-for-TV remake with Bacall fifteen years later), and while it’s not a must listen for casual fans, most Old Time Radio and Bogart enthusiasts will find enough here to make it worthwhile.

The Bogart Factor

Straight to the point – reprising the gangster-on-the-run role of Duke Mantee, Bogart’s third billed and only gets his most famous lines to use. We also don’t get any of the amazing caged tiger-like mannerisms that helped add an incredible amount of tension to the film. I’d also offer that he doesn’t seem quite as enthused for this broadcast as he did in several of his other films that were adapted for the radio. I haven’t decided yet if it’s really his fault, or if the role of Duke Mantee just needs to be seen as much as it needs to be heard. Plus – he doesn’t even get called out for the trivia game at the end with Power and Bennett even though he was the only original cast member from the film!

The Rest of the Cast

Tyrone Power comes off the best out of the entire cast as he takes over for Leslie Howard playing the wandering and depressed writer, Alan Squier. Power has a great voice for radio and the presence to pull off a solid character. Again, like Bogart, the part of Alan Squier has been cut down quite a bit, but there’s still plenty left to work with as Power carries the bulk of the weight in this production.

Joan Bennett is just fine in as the lonely cafe waitress, Gabby Maple, but Bette Davis has cast a long shadow and it’s not easy to get out from underneath of it. Bennett doesn’t give a bad performance, but it’s just low key enough that I wouldn’t have had any idea it was her if she hadn’t been listed in the credits.

The Bottom Line

Only for Bogart and Old Time Radio enthusiasts, but since it’s a rare find, those are probably the only folks who are going to listen to it.

Dead Man – 1945

dead man

My Review

—Mediocre, but Still Fun—

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 2

The Lowdown

A train-hopping hobo (William Tracy) is haunted by the voice of a railroad bull (Bogart) after killing him.

What I Thought

Based on a short story by famed novelist and screenplay writer James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Algiers, etc.), this one’s worth a listen for the author’s pedigree alone. While this story doesn’t come close to his best works, its paint-by-numbers plot is still entertaining enough. And – I have no doubt that 70 years ago, this plot might have played out a little more unexpectedly to a general public that wasn’t nearly as media-saturated as we are today.

Is this production of Dead Man good? It’s okay. It’s an easy listen at half an hour and more than good enough to pass the time on a commute to work or an airplane ride. Not as good as several of Bogart’s radio film adaptions, the actors do well with what they have.

This broadcast of Dead Man was one of Bogart’s rare pre-Bold Venture dips into radio that wasn’t a cameo appearance or a film adaption. Supposedly handpicked by Bogart himself, the noir-ish feel of a story that focuses on a murderer consumed with guilt and paranoia seems right up the Hollywood legend’s alley.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart does well here as Larry Knott, the railroad bull who’s murdered. Yes, his ghostly voice sounds a little like he’s standing across the street and speaking through a bullhorn, but how much can you really do on the radio when you need to distinguish someone as an ethereal presence that also needs a good dose of tough guy added in? There are so many roles in his filmography where Bogart plays a guilt ridden ne’er-do-well that is slowly becoming mentally unhinged (Black Legion, San Quentin, Dead End, Conflict, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, etc.) that it’s kind of refreshing to hear him as the innocent conscience haunting another killer. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Bogart playing the lead role himself if the story had made it to the big screen. If anyone knows the ins and outs of guilt-driven-mania, it’s Bogart for sure.

While it’s not a must listen unless you’re a Bogart completist, it’s worth a listen for anyone interested in a James M. Cain/Bogart collaboration.

The Rest of the Cast

William Tracy plays Lucky, the hobo who kills Bogart at the beginning of the story, only to be guilted into madness by his disembodied voice until he can stand it no longer. Tracy does well here with the material he’s given, more than able to give his private conversations with Bogart plenty of angst and tension.

The Bottom Line

You could do worse for old time radio. If you’re already a subscriber to an old time radio podcast, this one has either come up, or probably will eventually.

Down These Mean Streets Again, and Other Podcasting News!

Down Theses Mean Streets Podcast Twitter

This week, though, I would HIGHLY encourage you to head on over to the ‘Down These Mean Streets’ podcast which is a airing a double feature of episodes from Bogie and Bacall’s radio serial Bold Adventure! @MeanStsOTRPod sent me the episodes a week or two ago, and I’ve been listening to them on my travels. I’ve only heard a scant few eps of Bold Adventure, but I’m now salivating to dive in full steam.

In lieu of an extended post on the show before I’ve heard them – I’d encourage you to check out the show itself on the ‘Down These Mean Streets’ podcast. I asked @MeanStsOTRPod to give us all a little intro to the radio serials, and in his own words:

“Though they popped up regularly around the dial during the Golden Age of Radio, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall only starred in one regular series, and it’s hard to think of a project better suited to their screen personas at the time. Bold Venture blended elements of To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, and Casablanca to create a unique series. Not only did it boast the mega-wattage star power of Bogie and Bacall, but it featured a top-notch crew behind the scenes.

“Bogie was ‘Slate’ Shannon, a hotel proprietor with a shady past who also earned money as a charter boat captain. His ship – the “Bold Venture” – gave the show its title. Bacall was “Sailor” Duval, Shannon’s young ward (she was willed to him – the series was never really clear on the circumstances, but I bet that was a heck of a will-reading!). Together, they landed in and out of hot water in Havana. Throw in ‘King Moses,’ a calypso singer who hung out in the hotel and bantered with Slate and Sailor, and it’s easy to see the influence the couple’s films had in shaping Bold Venture.

“The series was developed for the couple by producer Frederick W. Ziv, a pioneer of syndicated programming. He landed Mr. and Mrs. Bogart for a salary of $5,000 a week; this was pricey for the 1950s, but a transcribed series with two of Hollywood’s biggest stars meant Ziv could (and did!) sell the series all across the country. Estimates I’ve read cast Ziv’s profits on the series at almost ten million dollars.

“The Bogarts got 78 episodes in the can before and after their trip abroad to shoot The African Queen. Ziv had an option to sign the couple for three more years, but it was Bogart who walked away. I’ve read it was the combination of offers in the wake of his Oscar win (not to mention his new fatherhood) that led him to throw in the towel. Bogie reportedly said of the show, I got tired of it. I never listened to it, but Betty did. She liked to hear her voice.

“All due respect to Mr. Bogart, but even a quick listen to Bold Venture reveals it to be exciting stuff, particularly if you’re a fan of that classic Bogart-Bacall chemistry.”

You can get the Mean Streets podcast on iTunes here, the Stitcher app here, or visit the tumblr site here. And you can read my previous interview with the podcaster himself here!

And in Other Somewhat Fun News!

I’m in the early stages of being able to announce that The Bogie Film Blog will be making it’s way to the podcast world as well! The details have not been ironed out yet, but the goal is to be up and running by the end of the year! It’s looking promising!

Thanks so much to all of you who have been regular readers and encouragers! Now head over and listen to some Bold Adventure!



Lady Esther Presents – High Sierra – 1946

High Sierra Lady Esther

My Review

—Surprisingly Well Done— 

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

You can read my original synopsis of the film here, but this adaption has been edited down so drastically that many of the supporting characters have been axed in order to focus almost solely on the relationship between ex-con Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) and his moll-in-the-making, Marie (Ida Lupino).

What I Thought

The best radio film adaptions are able to pare down a 90+ minute film into just under an hour, giving us a heavy dose of the most dramatic moments and letting the main stars take over almost all of the focus. Here though, High Sierra is wheedled down to under 30 minutes and some of the film’s major supporting characters have been completely removed from the story altogether.

Gone are Henry Travers as the traveling farmer looking for a break in California and his young daughter who catches Bogart’s eye and provides much of the motivation for Roy Earle at the end of the film. Forget the long romantic conversations under the stars and the father/son relationship bonding. That whole subplot has been sliced out. Roy Earle’s sidekicks Red and Babe have been trimmed down quite a bit as well, as has Earle’s mentor and boss, Big Mac.

What’s left?  Well, there’s still a robbery. The thieves still meet in cabins in the woods. The mountain top standoff is still the climatic ending. But what the adaption spends 99% of its time on is the relationship between Bogart’s Roy Earle and Ida Lupino’s Marie. This entire radio program hinges on the ability of the two main actors’ to convince us that their relationship is more important than anything else in the script.

The verdict? It works wonderfully well.

When I saw that the show only lasted 28 minutes, I was ready for a real stinker, but the Lady Esther crew wisely keeps what we love most about Bogart and Lupino’s characters and shifts the script a bit to make their motivation to fall in love happen much more quickly and naturally than it does in the film. With no other woman for Bogart to fall in love with, Lupino’s encouragement and bravery impress him. He’s not looking for jewels, he’s looking for a life beyond crime – something that he sees potential for in Lupino. Lupino is on the run from her painful past and knows that the men she’s traveling with aren’t it. She meets Bogart. She likes Bogart. Bogart is her way out. With the other characters relegated to tiny bit parts, the heist becomes inconsequential and the story becomes more about whether or not these two multi-time losers can get away with their crime and actually enjoy a quality life together.

It’s better than it has any right to be, and at just under ½ an hour, it’s a great listen for your daily commute.

Bogart and Lupino

I would dare say that these two have more spark as a couple in the radio adaption than they do in the film. The script is trim and tight, both actors are performing so well that you’ll think you’re listening to audio from the film, and the short running time will leave you longing for more – in a good way.

Bogart comes off a bit softer here with his ‘crew’ than he does in the film. Instead of having an outside love interest, his story is contained neatly within his relationship with Lupino. It gives the character of Roy Earle a greater sense of maturity and loneliness that leads us to really pulling for him to fall in love with Lupino. To be honest, I really missed, “The Gun went…” *tap, tap, tap* scene, but I can let that go.

Lupino also comes off as much more sympathetic than she did in the film. This version of Marie is a woman that we can root for. Life has dealt her a bad hand, but perhaps this one job with this one guy can turn it around.

The Rest of the Cast

As per usual, we’re not given the names of any of the other cast members. But whoever they had filling in for Willie Best as Algeron was so spot on with his impersonation that they could have just as easily given Best credit. Likewise, the voice actor filling in for Barton MacLane as the ex-cop turned bad guy, Jake Kranmer, was another spot-on substitute.

So what if the sound man playing the part of Pard the dog sounds more like a man than a dog when he barks? That’s part of the charm of Old Time Radio, right?

The Bottom Line

Short, sweet, and surprisingly good.

Lady Esther and the Screen Guild Players – Across the Pacific – 1943

Across the Pacific Poster

My Review

—Drastically Abridged, but It Works!— 

Honorary Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 3 out of 5 Radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

For my synopsis of the storyline from Across the Pacific, you can read my original write up on the film here.

What I Thought

I know that I probably don’t need to say this, but you should definitely watch the film before listening to the broadcast.  Some of the bigger plot twists and character motivations are given away in the opening segment by the narrator.  From the very beginning we know who’s who and what they’re after.

That being said, I can’t really explain why this radio broadcast works so well.  Almost all of the actual action has been removed from the story except for two key scenes – one in which Bogart is knocked unconscious, and the big shoot out at the end – but the conversations between the three main leads keep things humming along at a crisp enough pace that you don’t notice.

We also get another taste of Bogart as the narrator, albeit briefly, when his character of Rick Leland breaks the fourth wall and interrupts the actual narrator to move the story along at the beginning.  It’s not nearly as much narration as he had during The Maltese Falcon broadcast a few weeks ago, but it’s kind of fun, despite the fact that he essentially spoils all of the film’s big surprises in order to jump ahead in the story.

What really makes this radio broadcast work is the chemistry and conversations between the three main leads.  Bogart and Astor seem to be just as smitten as in the original film, and Bogart and Greenstreet share so many sparks while working alongside one another that they could probably read the phone book and it would be captivating.  While this version of the story may not be as action packed as its source material, the writing is sharp and it gives us some of the best bits of dialogue from the film.

The Japanese stereotyping is still here, as it’s pretty central to the story, but it’s not nearly as heavy as it was in the film since we don’t get a visual on the characters.  Although, when Rick’s buddy Sam shows up, the accent is more than a little over the top.

All in all, if you’re a fan of the film you’ll find this an easy listen at just a little over half an hour.

The Bogart Factor

I downloaded this one from the Warner Archive Podcast, and unlike a lot of other classic radio broadcasts that survive from that era, this one’s crystal clear.  There’s a few times we hear the studio audience (see below for one example), and it reminds me again how lucky these folks were to have the chance to see these cinema legends firsthand recreating iconic roles.

There are no stutters or dropped lines here, as Bogart seems especially laid back behind the microphone.  Again, he’s brought his A-game to the broadcast and gives 100%.

The Cast

This is the film that sold me on Mary Astor, and while her part is significantly shortened for the radio, she’s great here.  I love the fact that she can deliver her lines in such a way that I feel like I can actually hear when she’s smiling.  Out of the three Astor broadcasts that I’ve listened to thus far, this one’s been my favorite as she really sounds just as attractive as Bogart’s dialogue makes her out to be.

Sydney Greenstreet is the real scene stealer here as so much of Bogart’s time is spent in exposition.  His laugh is much more subdued than it was in The Maltese Falcon radio broadcasts, but there is such joy in the delivery of his lines that I am once again envious of everyone who ever got to see him do live theater.

Classic Bogie Moment

Well, it seems that every classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene.  I’m ready to state that every great Bogart radio appearance has at least one knocked out Bogie groan.  Not only does he get knocked out, but it takes two hits from Greenstreet’s goon, so we get double the groans before he hits the floor!  Unlike the knockout in the Falcon broadcasts though, the audience here giggles a bit.  What happened on stage to make them titter?  We’ll never know!

The Bottom Line

This certainly won’t quench a healthy thirst for a Bogart Fix, but it’s a nice way to spend a short drive.

Academy Award Theater Radio: The Maltese Falcon – 1946


My Review

—A Fun/Flawed Abridged Version—

Director: Dee Engelbach

Honorary Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 3 out of 5 Radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

For my Maltese Falcon synopsis, you can read my original write up on the film here. No major plot-altering details have been changed for the radio version, so it should suffice! Besides, if you’re reading this post and you haven’t seen the film yet . . . what’s your deal?!

What I Thought

This is one of three radio versions of The Maltese Falcon that Bogart performed over the years after the film’s initial release. I’m reviewing this one in particular because good friend of the ‘Bogie Film Blog,’ @MeanStsOTRPod, podcasted this episode of Academy Award Theater last Sunday on his Down These Mean Streets podcast. (Go listen to it right now. It’s okay. I’ll wait for you to come back.) If you’re a podcast listener and a fan of classic film, you should probably subscribe to this guy’s feed on iTunes. It’s always worth it. Somewhere down the line the Bogie Blog will cover the other Falcon broadcasts on Thursday posts.

Produced on CBS for Academy Award Theater by “The House of Squibb” (Bristol-Meyers Squibb now), this is a very abridged version of the film wherein Bogart gets to sum up and skip over about ¾ of the film with voiceover narration. So we lose some key scenes from the film, but we get lots of extra Bogart voice work instead. Is the tradeoff worth it? Not quite. It feels a bit rushed and the plot is a little tougher to navigate, but can you really complain when we get to hear Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet back together again? While the script may not be top notch quality, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Unlike previous live radio broadcasts that I’ve posted about, the audience doesn’t seem miked as well, so we only hear them react/laugh a few times in the show when Bogart or Greenstreet have a particularly good line or reaction. So other than a few minor line flubs by Bogart, you’d hardly even know that they did this one before an audience.

Despite the shortened run time and the exclusion of some of The Maltese Falcon’s best moments, the interplay between Bogart and Greenstreet is amazingly fun. The relationship between Bogart and Astor seems slightly tweaked from the film as well, but I’ll cover that more in the cast review below.

My only question – who played Peter Lorre’s part as Joel Cairo? I can’t seem to find the answer with my typical lackluster research, so if anyone out there in blogland has the answer, let me know! While he’s no Lorre, he still did well!

Make sure you pay attention to how the phrase Why not? is used multiple times by multiple characters throughout the broadcast! I just watched the film and I can’t remember if they did the same thing with those two words or not. It’s a fun little usage of the question as it’s repeated back and forth in several scenes for various reasons and emotions. Maybe as an English major I’m a sucker for little things like that, but I thought it was fun.

The Bogart Factor

We get to hear Bogart do a ton of voiceover narration as they obviously have to condense the plot considerably to fit it into a half hour time slot, so it’s fun to hear him tackle a pretty tried-and-true private eye trope.

Being in front of an audience on a live broadcast also means that he only gets one take to do his lines, and as anyone’s who’s seen the Breakdowns outtakes knows, Bogart could have a bit of a temper when he flubbed a line and let loose with an occasional curse. Here though, he’s very professional when he drops a word or repeats a phrase, and it’s hardly noticeable.

If nothing else, you’ve got to give this one a listen just to relive the chemistry between Bogart and Greenstreet. Both of them amp up their respective character’s senses of humor – especially in initial conversation with each other, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

The Cast

Mary Astor reprises her role from the film as the femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. For the original film, Director John Huston reportedly had Astor run around the set before scenes in order to give her a breathy and flustered demeanor. We don’t get that here and it seems to take a little bit of the edge off of her performance, but we do get something a little more subtle and interesting. Great emphasis is placed upon Brigid being a “liar” by all of the broadcast’s characters, and when Astor acknowledges it, there’s a wonderful personality shift that takes place. Astor plays Brigid a little more naïve and naughty until Bogart calls her out on her manipulative behavior – then she instantly switches over to a more cold and calculating – borderline sociopathic­ – demeanor. I liked it a lot even though it wasn’t as fun as the filmed version.

Sydney Greenstreet reprises the role of Kaspar Gutman, the “fat man” who’s chasing the bird around the world. Check out how much he’s revved up his laugh for this radio adaption! His giddiness is so over the top that his laugh is able to generate a few of the audible audience laughs throughout the show. He seems to be having a lot of fun as he dives back into his Oscar nominated role, and it’s well worth the time of any Greenstreet fan to give it a listen.

Like I said earlier, I’m still trying to track down the man behind Joel Cairo for this show. He had pretty big boots to fill as he stepped in for Peter Lorre, and he does well. He sounds similar, but is clearly not trying to do a Lorre impression which is nice. His accent is subdued to the point that it’s not distracting. And his chemistry with Bogart is one of the best parts of this broadcast.

Classic Bogie Moment

In all of his pre-superstar days in B-films and small roles, no one could die onscreen like Bogart. You have to check out the moment here where he only has audio to use when he’s drugged and has to pass out. Between his slurred speech and the thud that follows, it creates a pretty realistic loss of consciousness – and it’s a bit reminiscent of all those painful grunts as he slumps to the ground after being shot in his early films!

The Bottom Line

Not quite as good as the earlier broadcast that included Lorre, but an easy listen and time well spent with three of cinemas greats! Listen to it on a car or plane ride and have fun.

Down These Mean Streets Podcast

Down Theses Mean Streets Podcast Twitter

I’m pretty excited to feature another Twitter acquaintance on the blog this week, as this podcaster (whose real name and location have been withheld upon request) has so deviously snuck an all new, almost completely unexplored, hobby into my life.

Until I began to chat with @MeanStsOTRPod on Twitter, old-time radio dramas were something that I’d always heard about, but never really explored. Having spent a few years as a standup comedian, I’d always loved Jack Benny, so I’d heard a number of his old recordings. I also had a wonderful 8 cassette collection of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life radio game show until I literally wore it out.

Then I took a listen to @MeanStsOTRPod‘s post of an old episode of Nero Wolfe starring Bogie Film Blog favorite, Sydney Greenstreet. I knew that big time Hollywood actors from the classic era had done a lot of radio, but I’d never known that it could be this good.

@MeanStsOTRPod‘s influence eventually led to me checking out Bogart’s work in radio, and the subsequent posts on this blog that followed. So without further ado, let me introduce you to the podcaster behind Down These Mean Streets: An Old Time Radio Detective Podcast!

Bogie Film Blog: I have to admit, I really didn’t listen to much classic radio until I found you on Twitter, but now I’m slowly making my way through Bogart’s radio library. How did you start listening to old shows?

Down These Mean Streets: In elementary school, I read a book by Avi called Who Was That Masked Man Anyway? about a boy growing up in the 1940s. I can’t tell you much about the plot today, but what I remember vividly are the recreations of the old time radio shows the main character listened to each night: The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet…and The Shadow. I could not get that idea of an invisible crime fighter out of my head. The timing was perfect because it was the spring of 1994 and the movie version of The Shadow with Alec Baldwin was coming out that summer. I was too young to see it, but my parents bought me the novelization. (Remember those? With eight full pages of color photos from the movie!) I loved it and read it, and read it, and read it. I was the only fifth-grader who longed for the days of fedoras and gun molls.

My parents (thank God for them indulging a very nerdy son) found two collections of Shadow broadcasts (eight episodes each) and gave them to me for my birthday the next year. I remember popping the first cassette into my player and being immediately drawn into the world of the show. The episode was about a serial killer (keep in mind, The Shadow was a kids’ show!) who targeted celebrities and their most famous attributes (scalping a blonde actress, stabbing an opera singer in the throat). This was crazy stuff, but I devoured it, and I listened to those tapes over and over. I could close my eyes and watch the scenes play out; I could see Lamont Cranston fade away into nothing and watch as he terrified crooks with his menacing laugh.

A few years later, for another birthday gift, I received a twenty cassette/sixty show collection of “Old Time Radio’s Greatest Shows.” That was when my eyes (and ears) were truly opened. I heard Jack Benny, Johnny Dollar, Richard Diamond, The Saint, and dozens of others for the first time. At that point, I was off to the races. Today, I’ve built up a collection of a few thousand shows; my main interest is in detective shows, but I’m a big fan of comedies, Westerns, and adventure shows too.

BFB: That’s a pretty amazing collection for a kid to take in. What was it that pushed you from super-fan to podcaster?

DTMS: Two years ago, my best friend and I started a comedy podcast, and he did the heavy lifting in terms of editing the shows. I really wanted to learn how to edit and polish recordings, so I picked up a guidebook for Audacity (free editing tool available online). I wanted to record a demo to work on editing and adding in music cues, and I thought I’d play around with recording some intros to an old time radio show. I knew I could talk about them (if I’m not listening to one of these shows, chances are I’m reading about them), and I could try to match my commentary with the audio of the recording. It didn’t take long for my test to turn into the project itself. I loved researching and learning more about the shows and thought it would be a great way to share this interest of mine that I’ve cherished for most of my life. Once a few episodes went online and I started getting some comments and feedback, I realized I had an opportunity to connect with other old time radio fans and talk about our favorite shows. What started as a test to see if I could use Audacity has turned into a show that has been downloaded in 48 different countries.

I’m having a blast, and it looks like some folks have used the shows to get into old time radio, or at least to explore more of what’s out there. As someone who got into this hobby in the pre-Internet/podcast era, it’s so cool to see how many old time radio fans are out there and it’s encouraging to see people starting to get their feet wet in the world.

BFB: Speaking from my own personal (and often nerdy) experience, it’s an easy world to jump into and enjoy considering how many mainstream actors were participating in it at the time during the Classic Hollywood age. But I’m continually surprised by how many casual fans I’m bumping into on Twitter and in real life. What do you think is the real draw behind the shows?

DTMS: It’s a great question, since old time radio continues to attract new fans of all ages. For most people (myself included), I think radio is that rare dramatic medium where you as the audience member get to build your own casts and sets as you experience the story. Philip Marlowe looks the way you want him to look; you build the shot of his car tooling through the Hollywood hills. Even though it’s only audio, it engages more of you as an audience member because you’re building the visual. It truly is “theater of the mind” and you’re the casting and artistic director for the plays on your stage.

On the technical side, it’s amazing to hear how sound effects artists brought stories to vivid life; on the performance side, the versatility of these actors is unbelievable. Actors like Joseph Kearns and Paul Frees could serve as announcers in the same episodes they appeared in as guest stars. Some actresses, like Peggy Webber and Lurene Tuttle, played multiple supporting roles in a single episode. The talent pool in these shows is amazing, and while some went on to appearances in films and TV, radio is where many of them did their finest work and it’s a showcase of their talents.

BFB: What impresses me so much about the actors in these shows is that they seem to hold nothing back for radio. Bogart specifically continues to impress me with his passionate radio acting, as does Greenstreet. While reading Peter Lorre’s bio, I found it interesting that he made enormous amounts of time for radio, and seemed to love it almost as much as film. What do you think the appeal was for these bigger stars to work so hard for radio?

DTMS: You brought up Peter Lorre, and I think he’s a great example of an actor who enjoyed screen success but who still loved to come back to radio. One week he could be plotting his wife’s murder on Suspense, and the next he could be clowning around with Abbott and Costello. Radio gave actors a freedom they couldn’t always find on screen. Lorre usually had – well, the “Peter Lorre” part in movies, but he headlined on the air (including a 1947 anthology series called Mystery in the Air, where he starred in a different play each week). Radio afforded an opportunity for an actor to stretch and try something outside of their (or their audience’s) comfort zone. The public might not have wanted to see Jimmy Stewart as a smarmy SOB for a ninety minute feature, but he could play one on Suspense.

Radio was also a great promotion for the work actors were doing on the screen. Today, an actor may make the rounds on the late-night shows to promote a new movie. In the 40s, they could pop up on Jack Benny or Suspense, and there would always be a chance to plug their latest movie. In the late 1940s and 1950s, a number of detective shows cropped up featuring some A-list movie actors (Vincent Price, Dick Powell, Edmond O’Brien, Alan Ladd), and each show would close with a reminder for audiences to catch them in their latest film release.

BFB: Where do you find all the shows that you’ve been podcasting?

DTMS: Most of the shows I pick are from my own collection and are favorites of mine. In other cases, if I’m trying to find a specific episode, the Internet Archive is an incredible resource. Thousands of old time radio shows and public domain movies and TV episodes are available there for free (that’s just the tip of the iceberg…there are historical texts, there’s music; it’s definitely worth a visit to poke around). Some shows are off limits due to copyright (if I could, I’d love to do a retrospective of The Shadow), but most are in the public domain.

BFB: With so much to choose from, how do you go about making your selections about what to expose your audience to?

DTMS: One of the great things about doing this podcast has been hearing from folks on Twitter that they’re discovering a show after hearing it on “Down These Mean Streets.” That’s really cool, and it’s why I think carefully about which shows I’m going to feature. If I’m using a show for the first time, I try to find a good representative example of the series. For example, while it may be an interesting listen to a fan, an episode with a guest star subbing for the lead actor wouldn’t be the best introduction to that series. Sound quality comes into play; it’s great when the shows sound old, but sometimes there can be too much surface noise which, while authentic, robs the listener of the story and the performances.

My goal is to present a cross section of detectives. Most of the characters I’ve featured have been hard-boiled private eyes (my personal favorites), but there were so many great types of detectives and shows. On the show so far, we’ve had amateur sleuths, newspaper reporters, policemen, Texas Rangers, lawyers, and Sherlock Holmes. Generally, the feedback I’ve received about the variety has been good. Folks seem to like a mix of detectives. There are some who have made (and will make) multiple appearances, but I’m always looking for more examples of different kinds of shows. Next year, I’m hoping to have some radio versions of classic detective films to mix in with the regular shows.

In a few cases, folks have contacted me and asked for specific detectives (one of my listeners in Scotland wanted to hear a show called Casey, Crime Photographer). I love getting requests and encourage the listeners to drop me a note with an ask for a particular detective they’d like to hear.

BFB: Do you ever fear that there’ll come a day when the well runs dry and you’ve used up all the shows?

DTMS: Fortunately, the well isn’t anywhere close to running dry. I have the rest of 2013 scheduled and a preliminary schedule for the first six months of 2014 (again, that’s subject to change with listener requests). Even if I reached a point where I had run out of “new” shows to introduce, I have so many favorite episodes from other shows that I don’t think I could run out in this lifetime.

Also, believe it or not, “lost” shows from this period are being discovered and released. Recently, a few more episodes of Van Heflin’s single season as Philip Marlowe that were thought to be lost were uncovered. I’m hoping to get those on the podcast in the not too distant future. The list of shows to play on the podcast is long and (thanks to finds like this one) keeps getting longer!

BFB: It was an episode you posted of Sydney Greenstreet as Nero Wolfe that specifically sucked me into old time radio. If someone wanted to listen who’s never listened before, is there a specific show you’d recommend?

DTMS: If there are no objections, I’m going to cheat and recommend a show each for comedies, dramas, thrillers, Westerns, and detective shows. Each one is great; listening to all of them should give you a pretty good overview of the Golden Age of Radio.

Comedy: The Jack Benny Program. Some of his material can be topical (Truman jokes don’t play in 2013 like they did in ’48!), but most of the humor is character and situation-driven. Plus, he had without a doubt the strongest supporting cast in radio. You can’t really go wrong if you fire up a Jack Benny episode, but a good intro might be the December 9, 1945 episode where Jack invites himself to dinner at Ronald Colman’s house.

Drama: Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater On the Air. It’s from the late 1930s and it offers some of the best examples of innovative writing, directing, and use of sound effects in radio. Of course, “The War of the Worlds” is the most famous of those shows, but there are some other great episodes. Welles opened the series with a wonderful adaptation of Dracula (July 11, 1938), in which he plays both Arthur Seward and Dracula himself.

Thriller: Suspense (I played two episodes on the podcast for a Halloween show). “Sorry, Wrong Number” was its most famous show, but spoilers over the years may have robbed it of its impact. I’m going to go with Orson Welles again and recommend “The Hitch-Hiker” from Suspense (September 2, 1942): spooky atmosphere, great sound effects, wonderful score by Bernard Herrmann, and a script so great Rod Serling used it for a first season episode of The Twilight Zone.

Western: Gunsmoke is the most well-known, but I’d recommend a short-lived show called Frontier Gentleman. It tells the story of a British newspaper correspondent as he travels the west and wires stories back to London. It’s a fantastically written series, and it has a great lead performance from actor John Dehner (a mainstay on TV from the 50s to the 70s). I’d go with “Aces and Eights” (April 20, 1958), where the main character meets (and plays a final game of cards) with Wild Bill Hickock.

Detective: If you had to pick just one, I’d say The Adventures of Sam Spade starring Howard Duff. The dialogue is fast-paced, the mysteries are clever, and the film noir clichés are gently spoofed. There’s a lot in Duff’s wry performance and the weird characters he meets that reminds me of my favorite detective TV show of all time, The Rockford Files. It’s just a bit off-kilter but it still works in the genre of a hard-boiled detective show. (Fortunately, you don’t have to pick just one!)

BFB: Being a Bogart fan site, I have to ask, out of all the radio broadcasts that Bogart was a part of, do you have a favorite?

DTMS: A lot of Bogart’s old time radio appearances were recreations of his movies on Lux Radio Theater and other shows. I’ve really enjoyed the write-ups you’ve done for those shows on the blog. My favorite of the Bogart film recreations is a version of The Maltese Falcon from Academy Award Theater. Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet are back in their film roles, and it’s a very taut, well done condensed version of the movie. The writers throw Bogart some great first person narration (“a slick chick got sent up for life”). My favorite non-movie adaptation (and favorite Bogart radio appearance) is a Jack Benny episode (January 5, 1947) where Jack has Lauren Bacall over to his house for a rehearsal. Bogie drops by unexpectedly and sits in on practice:

Jack: Lauren, oh, what should I call you…Lauren, or Ms. Bacall?

Bogie: Mrs. Bogart.

BFB: Where can we keep up with you on web and keep tabs on the podcast?

DTMS: If you want to check out the show and learn more, you can head to our Tumblr where I blog about the shows featured on the podcast. You can subscribe to the show in the iTunes Store and on the Stitcher app for your iPhone or Android (reviews are definitely appreciated if you like what you hear). And if you want to see what’s coming up on the show, I’m on Twitter @MeanStsOTRPod and on Facebook. Feedback and questions are great. I’ve connected with so many great people who love old time radio through Twitter and it’s always good to find more!

BFB: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat! I’m WAAAAAAYYYY behind on my episodes, but I try to get at least one or two in every road trip!

– What are you waiting for?!? There’s so much crossover behind Classic Film and Classic Radio that I can’t imagine fans from each wouldn’t find a lot in common! Go give the Down These Mean Streets Podcast a listen, a good review, and little extra love on Twitter!