Down These Mean Streets

An Old Time Radio Detective Podcast

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The Most Famous of All Manhunters

"Calling Nick Carter!  Another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective.  Yes, it’s another case for that most famous of all manhunters, the detective whose ability at solving crimes is unequaled in the history of detective fiction - Nick Carter, Master Detective!"

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In 1886, readers were introduced to a brilliant detective, a master of both disguise and deduction, who tackled the cases that baffled the police.  Think you know who it is?  If you guessed Sherlock Holmes, you’re a year too early.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Holmes adventure was published in 1887, one year after the debut of Nick Carter, a character who went from dime novels to pulp magazines, and then to film and later radio.  Though not as well known today, Nick Carter enjoyed a long career as one of America’s most celebrated detectives.

Carter’s first adventure was “The Old Detective’s Pupil,” which appeared in the September 18, 1886 issue of Street & Smith’s New York Weekly.  Street & Smith were one of the largest publishers of dime novels in the country; in fact, the plot of the first Nick Carter story was dreamed up by Ormond G. Smith, son of one of the magazine’s founders.  Writer John Russell Coryell wrote the story and two more before he decided there was more money in writing romances.  The character was turned over to writer Frederick Rensselaer Dey, who penned a Carter novel (25,000 words) each week for seventeen years.  Carter became so popular that Street & Smith launched a separate magazine devoted to his exploits.

Nick Carter was a clean-cut, teetotaling, private detective.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the world and possessed almost superhuman strength; he could “lift a horse with ease…while a heavy man is seated in the saddle.”  Nick had been groomed for the gumshoe game from birth by his father, a famous detective named “Old Sim” Carter.  Based in a ritzy New York apartment, Nick’s cases would take him all around the world.  And he was famous all over the world, too.  In 1908, the first of three Nick Carter film serials hit French movie screens, with sequels following in 1909 and 1912.

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By 1915, the solo Nick Carter magazine had folded, but the character continued to make appearances in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine.  Later, after the company found pulp novel success with the exploits of The Shadow and others, Nick Carter was back in his own pulp magazine.  In 1939, Hollywood came calling (albeit several years after French film producers), and Walter Pidgeon starred as Nick in three movies from MGM.

When the character came to radio in 1943, it was in The Return of Nick Carter.  Those early shows tipped their hat to the character’s pulp origins with subtitled adventures (for example, “Murder in the Crypt…or Nick Carter and the Jackal God”).  Actor Lon Clark, a former opera singer, took the role of Nick and kept it until the series left the air in 1955.  His 12 years as Nick Carter are bested only by Bennett Kilpatrick’s 13 years as Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons.  On radio, Carter was presented in the clean-cut mold from the pulps.  He had a fancy brownstone house with a crime lab and shooting range in the basement where he’d work out cases with his friends and colleagues Patsy Bowen and reporter “Scubby” Wilson.  They’d be called in, sometimes relcutantly, by Sgt. Mathison (affectionately known as “Matty” to Nick) on tough crimes that left the NYPD stumped.

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Clark was supported by Helen Choate (a former radio Lois Lane) and later Charlotte Manson as Patsy.  Ed Latimer provided the thick Irish brogue for Matty for much of the series.  Scripts came from Walter B. Gibson, who wrote the pulp novels and fleshed out the history of Carter’s Street & Smith stablemate, The Shadow.  Other writers on the show were Edith Meiser, who contributed scripts for Sherlock Holmes, and sci-fi author Alfred Bester.  Walter Gibson also worked on the series’ short-lived spin-off Chick Carter, Boy Detective (Chick was Nick’s adopted son who followed in the family business).

The show, later retitled Nick Carter, Master Detective, aired on the Mutual Network until September 25, 1955 - outlasting several of the better known gumshoes of the Golden Age of Radio.  When the radio series ended, Carter didn’t hang up his badge and gun.  He was resurrected in the 1960s as a James Bondian secret agent in over 200 Nick Carter - Killmaster novels.  In 1972, Robert Conrad, late of The Wild Wild West, starred as Carter in a turn of the century mystery set in the Victorian Era that would have served as a pilot for a new series.  Unfortunately, this didn’t get picked up, but Nick Carter is still kicking over a century after he first appeared in print.  His mix of brains and derring-do, with a healthy dose of pulp heroics, are well worth rediscovering or enjoying for the first time.

In Episode 54 of the podcast, Nick of Time, we’ll hear Lon Clark as Nick Carter in “The Case of Shakespeare’s Ghost,” originally aired on Mutual on December 30, 1945.

Click here to subscribe to “Down These Mean Streets” in iTunes.

Filed under Nick Carter Lon Clark Old Time Radio Detectives Golden Age of Radio OTR

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Episode 54 - Nick of Time (Nick Carter, Master Detective)

Nick Carter is one of the detective world’s oldest characters, predating Sherlock Holmes by more than a year.  He thrilled fans in dime novels, pulp magazines, and movies before he came to radio.  Lon Clark starred as the brilliant private eye for twelve years on the air, and we’ll hear him in “The Case of Shakespeare’s Ghost,” originally aired on Mutual on December 30, 1945.



New Podcast Episode Now Available!

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New Episode on Sunday - Nick Carter, Master Detective

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Nick Carter began his crime-solving career in dime novels in 1886, and he is one of the oldest characters in detective fiction.  From 1943 until 1955, the adventures of “the most famous of all manhunters” were heard over the Mutual Network starring Lon Clark as Carter.  The legendary private detective, aided by his girl Friday Patsy Bowen, solves “The Case of Shakespeare’s Ghost,” originally aired on December 30, 1945 on the next episode of the podcast.  Check it out in Episode 54 - Nick of Time, available Sunday, April 20th!

Click here to subscribe to “Down These Mean Streets” in iTunes.

And, in case you missed it, click here for last week’s episode starring Les Damon as The Falcon.

Filed under Nick Carter Lon Clark Old Time Radio OTR Podcast New Episodes Golden Age of Radio

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Happy Birthday, Joan Alexander

Actress Joan Alexander was born today - April 16, 1915.  She’s most famous for playing Lois Lane on radio’s The Adventures of Superman and recreating the role in the legendary Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s.  In addition to her work as the star reporter of the Daily Planet, Alexander could be heard as Della Street on Perry Mason and as Ellen Deering on Philo Vance.

Filed under Joan Alexander Birthdays Superman Old Time Radio OTR Golden Age of Radio

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Give Me a Rain Check, Angel

"You met The Falcon first in his best-selling novels, then you saw him in his thrilling motion picture series.  Now, join him on the air when The Falcon solves…The Case of the Flaming Club!"

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Some radio detectives originated in the pages of novels and short stories, while others transitioned from the big screen to the airwaves.  In the case of The Falcon, it was a little of each as two different characters were blended into one of radio’s longest-running sleuths.

The first Falcon was introduced by Drexel Drake in a 1936 novel The Falcon’s Prey.  Drake’s Falcon, featured in multiple novels and stories, was Malcolm Wingate, a shadowy crime-fighter and Robin Hood figure born in America but raised in England.  Aided by an ex-cop nicknamed “Sarge,” the Falcon preyed on evildoers and came to the aid of the oppressed.

Drake’s Falcon predated Gay Stanhorpe Falcon, a freelance adventurer created by Michael Arlen in his 1940 short story “The Gay Falcon.”  It was this Falcon who came to the big screen in 1941 with George Sanders (fresh off a movie run as The Saint) starring as the character.  As if that wasn’t complicated enough, the movie (and its sequels) changed the character’s name to Gay Lawrence, with no explanation of how he earned the name “The Falcon.”  The Falcon of the films began as a replacement for The Saint at RKO, but he evolved into more of a classic private detective.  In fact, his third movie, The Falcon Takes Over (1942), was an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely with The Falcon subbing in for Philip Marlowe.  After four movies, Sanders had enough and his real-life brother Tom Conway took over the franchise as “Tom Lawrence” in The Falcon’s Brother, and played the role for eight more movies.

The success of the films led to a radio version in 1943.  The Falcon of the radio was a private eye named Michael Waring, neither the Drake character nor the Arlen character.  The radio series referred to the Falcon’s past in novels and in films, and Drexel Drake was credited as the character’s creator on the air.  Just to add another wrinkle to the genealogy of the character, the Waring Falcon hit the big screen in three films starring John Calvert.

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Berry Kroger was the first actor to play Waring on the air, and he was succeeded by James Meighan.  For the bulk of the run, The Falcon was played by Les Tremayne and Les Damon.  The actors shared several roles along with their first name; in addition to The Falcon, they each took a turn starring as Nick Charles in The Adventures of The Thin Man.  George Petrie, who played radio private eye Charlie Wild and District Attorney Markham on Philo Vance, was the last actor to play The Falcon on the air.

Most of the shows began with The Falcon answering a phone call from one of his many lovely female companions.  He’d politely decline their company for the evening before offering a tease of the adventure he was about to undertake.  Like his radio private eye brethren, Waring’s cases were about equally divided between clients seeking his help and the police calling him in on tough-to-crack cases.  In the early 1950s, owing to the popularity of espionage programs, The Falcon became an intelligence agent for the US Government.  His work took him overseas where he battled enemy spies with the same skills he used on gangsters back in the Big Apple.

Despite the long run of the program (The Falcon aired from 1943 until 1954 in multiple runs over NBC and Mutual), only about 100 episodes survive.  Most of them come from the Tremayne/Damon years, so listeners today can hear a mix of Falcon adventures both foreign and domestic.  With his mix of hard-boiled private eye and suave gentleman adventurer, The Falcon is a great character with whom to spend an evening.

In Episode 53 of the podcast, Birds of a Feather, we’ll hear Les Damon as The Falcon in “The Case of the Flaming Club,” originally aired on NBC on May 6, 1951.

Click here to subscribe to “Down These Mean Streets” in iTunes.

Filed under The Falcon Les Damon George Sanders Tom Conway Old Time Radio OTR Detectives Golden Age of Radio

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George Sanders (above) starred as Gay Lawrence, aka The Falcon in four RKO films from 1941 to 1943.  In 1943’s The Falcon’s Brother, he was joined by Tom Conway (below), his real-life sibling, who co-starred as Tom Lawrence.  When Sanders left the series after The Falcon’s Brother, Conway starred as the new Falcon in eight additional movies.

Filed under George Sanders Tom Conway The Falcon Old Time Radio OTR Golden Age of Radio