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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Another Radio Poirot

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Another Radio Poirot

A few weeks ago, I wrote about John Moffatt’s outstanding radio show, in which he played Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. I think it is, and will remain, unsurpassed. Today, we’re going to go back and look at the first radio series starring the fussy little Belgian detective.

By 1944, there had been a few radio appearances featuring Poirot. Including a production by Orson Welles, starring Orson Welles, for Orson Welles’ radio show. (It’s all about Orson). I’ll write about that one later. Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen, Philip Marlowe, The Falcon: detectives were popular radio fare. And an American actor and entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Harold Huber, set out to add Agatha Christie’s famous creation as a regular attraction of the airwaves.

Huber obtained the rights to Poirot for an American radio show. Agatha Christie’s Poirot debuted on February 2, 1945, featuring a live introduction from Christie, across the sea. Except, after about thirty seconds of silence, the announcer for the Mutual Broadcasting System explained that atmospheric conditions prevented the connection. MBS did have the foresight to record a short-wave transmission from Christie earlier that day, and played that in place of her live appearance. Having Christie explain that Poirot was busy, so she would introduce the series, was a pretty neat move in those times LONG before cell phones and podcasts.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 24 and 25

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 24 and 25

So, last year, as the Pandemic settled in like an unwanted relative who just came for a week and is still tying up the bathroom, I did a series of posts for the FB Page of the Nero Wolfe fan club, The Wolfe Pack. I speculated on what Stay at Home would be like for Archie, living in the Brownstone with Nero Wolfe, Fritz Brenner, and Theodore Hortsmann. I have already re-posted days one through twenty-one. Here are days twenty-four (April 14) and twenty-five (April 15). It helps if you read the series in order, so I’ve included links to the earlier entries.

DAY TWENTY FOUR – 2020 Stay at Home

The doorbell rang. I’ve certainly typed that many times in my accounts of Nero Wolfe’s cases. But it was something that wasn’t happening much lately. Other than food deliveries for Fritz, visitors were few and far between. Wolfe didn’t even bother acknowledging it, knowing it wouldn’t be a potential, and certainly uninvited client. I moved out into the hall and heard Fritz in the kitchen, still cleaning up from lunch.

Looking through the one-way glass, I was surprised to see the not-quite-as familiar lately profile of the head of Homicide West, Inspector Cramer. He was calling something out to his driver and turned when he heard me open the door two inches, the chain still on.

“I’m sorry, sir. Wolfe & Goodwin Investigations is temporarily closed. Our esteemed governor does not feel that private detectives provide an essential service in these troubled times. May I suggest you visit your local precinct station? Of course, it is a step down in quality of service, but those dedicated public servants are open 24/7.”

“You’ll clown at your own funeral, Goodwin. The only good thing about this lockdown is I haven’t had to listen to you for three weeks. Open up. I want to talk to Wolfe.”

“Now hold on. We’ve kept this place virus free. Who knows where you’ve been? Let me see if I can let you in.”

“Cut the crap-” I’m sure the next word was ‘Goodwin,’ but it was muffled by the door, which I had closed on him.

I stopped at the doorway to the office. “It’s the man about the chair.” That was my favorite code name for the inspector.

He looked up from his book. “What?”

“Yes sir. It seems that the New York police force cannot function without your assistance. Since we’re not on a case, he can’t be coming here to yell at us, a pastime which he greatly enjoys, as you well know. I’d guess he’s really stuck on something, and wants you to bail him out.”

“That man can still be a nuisance.”

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 20 and 21

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay at Home – Days 20 and 21

So, last year, as the Pandemic settled in like an unwanted relative who just came for a week and is still tying up the bathroom, I did a series of posts for the FB Page of the Nero Wolfe fan club, The Wolfe Pack. I speculated on what Stay at Home would be like for Archie, living in the Brownstone with Nero Wolfe, Fritz Brenner, and Theodore Hortsmann. I have already reposted days one through fifteen. Here are days twenty (April 10) and twenty-one (April 11). It helps if you read the series in order, so I’ve included links to the earlier entries. I enjoy channeling Archie more than any other writing which I do.

DAY TWENTY – 2020 Stay at Home

I tried calling Inspector Cramer after breakfast, but he was out. Apparently my fellow New Yorkers are still committing homicide. I’ll call the station later in the day. I’d like to visit a crime scene and try to do some detecting.

I had more success calling the hospital to check on Bill Gore. I found out that he had gotten through the worst of it and recovered enough to be sent home. I wasn’t going to call him up, but it was good to know he had survived the virus.

It’s Good Friday. I am not religiously inclined, but I will say that I’m glad that those who are, received some hope today. That commodity seems to be in pretty short supply these days. New York City has had more deaths than all but four entire countries. Instead of 32,000 fans watching the Mets at Citi Field, they’re digging mass graves out on Hart Island. If somebody wants to believe that a man dying on a cross is good for mankind, then that’s one death I’ll tip my hat to. Just don’t expect me to kneel.

I’m generally a pretty orderly guy, and I keep my stuff neat and tidy. I don’t like messy. This lock down has given me the opportunity to really organize my things. I was moving a couple boxes around and started looking through some of my old notebooks. I saw my notes on the Adam Nicoll murder. I might type that one up if we’re stuck at home for another couple months. That’s one I worked on while I was self-employed during Wolfe’s ‘great hiatus.’ He had simply vanished as he put operation ‘Get Zeck’ into effect, without even telling me. I opened up shop for myself and kept reasonably busy until Wolfe suddenly reappeared. Lily was the source of the Nicoll case. Indirectly.

I have a Facebook account. I don’t use it much, and I could, and often do, live without it. But I do post occasionally – Often related to baseball. Today, someone left a comment on my post, letting me know they were going to snooze me for 30 days. Now, you don’t have to like what I say. It’s a free country. Well, lately it hasn’t been as free as usual, but still: Why in the world would you tell me, on my own post, that you’re snoozing me? Whether you see my posts or not isn’t going to change my day. Just do it. It reminds me of the Pharisees preaching in the Temple square, so everyone would see them. Hey – I didn’t say I haven’t read the Bible. You don’t grow up in rural Ohio and not get some religion lessons.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: James Lee Burke’s Cajun Hardboiled

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: James Lee Burke’s Cajun Hardboiled

Burke_JonesFrenchPoster
There was no American release for ‘In the Electric Mist.’ 90% of the world-wide gross came from France, where Bertrand Tavernier is well-respected.

Today, I’m going to write about James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux. It’s not going to be like my look at Tony Hillerman and his Navajo Tribal Police series, where re-read the first nine books and dug into his autobiography. This column is due in about 36 hours. But I put Burke back on my radar Friday night, and I’m glad I revisited him.

Two days after my birthday in 1987 (giving you the opportunity to do some research, find the date, and get me a birthday gift in 2021…), Burke’s first Dave Robicheaux novel, The Neon Rain, came out. He had already written a few books, in sort of the ‘Americana’ genre. The year before, The Lost Get-Back Boogie had given indications of what was coming. If you haven’t read that latter book, but you’ve read Burke, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Robicheaux is an alcoholic ex-cop, who runs a charter-fishing and boat shop in New Iberia parish (county), Louisiana. His best friend, another ex-cop named Cletus Purcell (who is a train wreck and a wrecking crew rolled into one) is a series regular. Robicheaux mostly just wants to be left alone with his wife and adopted daughter, but it never works out that way. And while he’s more than willing to go outside of the law, he’s an honorable guy.

There have been twenty-three books in the series. I’ve read the first twelve. I will read all of them, I just get sidelined and am always reading something else. I believe that Burke is probably the best hardboiled writer of the Post-Classic Era. I’ve read Elmore Leonard, and I know Ross MacDonald, and I’d put in myself a plug for the excellent Joe Gores. But before moving on to a movie adaptation, I’m just going to say that Burke is a phenomenal writer. His prose – especially in the latter books – is wonderful. It’s almost poetic in its imagery. And his books are violent, and there is evil in them. But Burke never glorifies evil.

Okay – Last week, I was reading a Cormac Mac Art book by Andrew J. Offutt. And it was the best sword and sorcery I’ve read in some years. I was also reading a Jack Higgins book. I have about forty of them, and I was tackling this one for the first time. And I was reading part of a book on famous Victorians as research for a story. And…re-reading a Solar Pons story for an article.

But as I was loading up a Psych re-watch (that was last week’s topic, you’ll recall), I saw that Prime has In the Electric Mist. I had watched that some years before, and it didn’t do much for me. It was based on the sixth novel in the series; In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Psych of the Dead

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Psych of the Dead

Psych_CastEDITEDI could not figure out what to write about today. I re-watched Paul Newman’s Harper, and thought about a post on that – especially since I recently re-read the autobiography of screenwriter William Goldman. And I saw Unholy Partners, a good hardboiled newspaper flick with Edward G. Robinson and Edward Arnold. I re-watched three versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles (Ian Richardson, Peter Cushing, and Jeremy Brett), and Bruce Campbell’s My Name is Bruce. I read Mark Latham’s Sherlock Holmes – Van Helsing novel, Betrayal in Blood. I started Robert E. Howard’s Cormac Mac Art stories, which I’d not read yet. I even started typing about Fortnite, the phenomenon with over 350 MILLION registered accounts – I play as a way to connect with my soon-to-be teenage son. But none of those subjects ‘clicked’ for this week.

I was sitting, looking at the well over a thousand books in my home office drawing a blank. I had a case of writer’s malaise. For Halloween, I watched a couple episodes of Psych, and I’ve decided to write about that. This isn’t one of my in-depth series’ looks, like I wrote for Leverage, and Hell on Wheels. But we’ll still talk about one of my favorite detective shows.

The premise of Psych is that Shawn Spencer (played by James Roday) has Sherlock Holmes-like powers of observation. Growing up, his dad (a terrific co-starring performance by Corbin Bernsen) was a hard-nosed cop who taught his son by locking him in the trunk of the car, challenging him in a restaurant to close his eyes and tell him how many diners are wearing hats, and the like. In the pilot, circumstances force Sean to pretend those observational skills are actually psychic revelations. He has to continue the charade to avoid jail. It sounds ridiculous, but they make it work well enough in the pilot.

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Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

51WvS1lFaXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_PulpNoir_1280__06197.1518283264Black Gate: Bold Venture Press is, in many ways, the unsung hero of the pulp world of the 21st Century. You’ve an impressive catalog of new titles and classic reprints, but let’s start at the beginning and tell readers about Bold Venture Press’ history and accomplishments.

Bold Venture Press: Rich Harvey was working in the newspaper field, and founded Pulp Adventures Press in 1992, which eventually became Bold Venture Press. The Bold Venture imprint published The Spider and Pulp Adventures magazine, went on hiatus for a few years, then returned in 2014, reviving Pulp Adventures.

Audrey Parente was an investigative reporter and pulp historian who put her pulp connections on hiatus as her reporting career went into high gear. She rejoined the pulp fold after taking early retirement by attending Rich’s Pulp AdventureCon in New Jersey in 2012. Meeting at other pulp conventions, Rich and Audrey became reacquainted.

A fictionalized version of their romance, Pulp Noir was published by Bold Venture Press. They joined forces in Florida in 2014. Bold Venture has been cranking out several books every month, first focusing on pulp reprints and then adding new pulp and mainstream authors. Rich’s connections with Zorro Productions has led to the biggest and most exciting projects they have tackled.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ ‘Have One on the House’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ ‘Have One on the House’

DimeDetective_March1942EDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era termsp for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I’ve said many times that Norbert Davis is on my Hardboiled Mt. Rushmore. He’s not the first face carved in hardboiled stone, but he’s one of only four that are. Max Latin is my favorite Davis character, and he appeared in five issues of Dime Detective. There were five Benjamin Martin stories – all in Detective Tales. It was William (Bail Bond) Dodd that was Davis’ frequently recurring character. There were eight stories in Dime Detective between February, 1940 through December, 1943.

Dodd is a physically unprepossessing bail bondsman. He doesn’t actively seek out trouble. You can’t even call his adventures cases. “Have one on the House” was in the March, 1942 issue of Dime Detective. That issue also included a Steve Midnight story from John K. Butler. Midnight was a broke former playboy who found adventures as a night shift cabbie. There was also a Bookie Barnes story from Robert Reeves. Reeves broke into Black Mask in 1940 at the age of 28. He was serving with a bomber unit in the Philippines when he died in 1945, only one month before the war ended. He had continued to write while in the service. His budding career was cut tragically short.

Back to Dodd! Norbert Davis is remembered as perhaps the best at screwball hardboiled. However, then and now, that carries a stigma and he is generally dismissed because of it. And it’s both inaccurate and unfair. He could write straight hardboiled, like “The Red Goose,” which Raymond Chandler praised as influencing him when he decided to become a writer. But what Davis did so well was inject humor into his hardboiled stories, without overwhelming them with it. That’s the case with the Bail-Bond Dodd stories. It’s not that the characters are funny – it’s the situations that Dodd (and his assistant, Meekins) find themselves in.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Don’t You Cry for Me’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Don’t You Cry for Me’

Davis_Don'tCry“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

On my Hardboiled Mount Rushmore, it’s Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel, and then Norbert Davis. The fourth spot is a bit fluid, though the Jo Gar series often has Raoul Whitfield in that fourth spot. But today, we’re going to look at a Davis short story.

Davis was in law school at Stanford when he wrote his first story and sent it to Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, the legendary editor of Black Mask. It was accepted, and by the time he graduated law school, he was successfully writing for the pulps. In fact, he was doing so well, he never sat for the bar, and spent the rest of his life as a writer, moving from the pulps to the higher-paying slicks. Sadly, took his own life at only the age of 40.

I’ve already written an essay on his Ben Shaley stories, which constituted two of the five Davis tales Shaw printed in Black Mask under his watch. After Shaw left, Davis appeared in Black Mask eight more times. I’m working on what I hope will be THE definitive essay on his Max Latin stories. I absolutely love that five-story series. They’re fantastic.

Between May 1942 and May 1943, Black Mask ran three stories featuring John Collins. Collins was a piano player who had done some investigation work on the side in Europe before World War II. “Don’t You Cry for Me” was the first of the three stories.
Picking Iron (trivia) – In May, 1942, Give the Devil His Due” ran in Dime Detective.

Of course, America was drawn into World War II on December 7, 1941.The story blurb for this one reads, “The brawny piano-player had had his run-ins with the ghoulish Gestapo in the beer halls of Europe, but when he promised Myra Martin’s mother to find the girl in the Mecca of the movie-struck, he ran foul of a plot as fantastic as any Hitler pipe-dream.” Pulp magazines used bombast long before Donald Trump did.

“John Collins was playing the Beale Street Blues and playing it soft and sad because that was the way he felt. The notes dripped through the dimness of the room like molasses and provided an appropriate accompaniment to his thoughts. He had a hangover.”

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

Dollar_Powell
Powell as Phlip Marlowe

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Dick Powell was Johnny Dollar? Well, no, not exactly. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, was a very successful radio show, which ran for over 800 episodes, covering thirteen years. It easily outlasted many competing programs, such as The Adventures of Sam Spade, and The (New) Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Dollar was “the insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account,” though he started out as more of a typical private eye. Which can also be said of Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer, Perry Mason.

In December of 1948, Dick Powell auditioned for the new show, recording the episode Milford Brooks III. With movies such as 1944’s Murder My Sweet, and 1947’s Johnny O’Clock, the popular song-and-dance man had carved out a niche as an unlikely hardboiled star. He’s actually my favorite movie Marlowe, and I wrote about Johnny O’Clock here at Black Gate. Here’s the episode, for your listening pleasure.

He had also spent the previous two years as Richard Rogue in the rather unusual PI radio show, Rogue’s Gallery. Like many shows of the time, Rogue’s Gallery had a lack of stability in network, time slot and even renewal, and Powell left after 1947, replaced by Barry Sullivan. This left him available to try out for Johnny Dollar. The original title was Yours Truly, Lloyd London, but was presumably changed to avoid trouble with the well-known insurance company.

However, it appears that Powell decided to pass on the part to pursue a different radio opportunity; Richard Diamond, Private Eye (another of my favorites). So, actor Charles Russell was given the part. This essay is going to talk mostly about Powell’s audition, but will go beyond that focus.

In this earliest incarnation, Powell plays a somewhat light-hearted version of Dollar, though he’s still more of a typical private eye than a distinctive insurance investigator. His witty patter is consistent throughout, and he even hums ‘Slow Boat to China;’ a tip of the fedora to his Hollywood musical background. In fact, Powell comes across as pretty similar to his next part, Richard Diamond.

Early on, a young man he’s dealing with bites him, which later lets Dollar make a cryptic comment that “Let’s just say, he put the bite on me.” That comes just after saying, “That kid’s liquor sure can hold him.” Very much like Diamond, Powell’s Dollar is quick with a quip. Which is fine. But it’s more prevalent here than it would be with other actors in the role.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Powell)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Powell)

Powell_OClockPoster1“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

And for the third year in a row, A (Black) Gat in the Hand makes a hardboiled reservation for Monday mornings. It’s a limited run, but for the month of June, I’ll look at some hardboiled/noir on screen efforts: Ones that you might not be quite as familiar with. Not totally off the beaten path, but not the big names, either. And we kick things off with Dick Powell’s follow up to Murder My Sweet, Johnny, O’Clock.

When you think of the hardboiled movie, or book, it’s usually a private eye that comes to mind. There’s Sam Spade, and Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer. Of course, there were also cops in movies, like Glenn Ford’s Dave Bannion in The Big Heat; and Frederick Nebel’s MacBride in print. Those stories were changed into seven Torchy Blaine movies, and quite different from Nebel’s hardboiled stories about MacBride, unfortunately.

Other occupations were covered, including reporters, and lawyers. Ex-soldiers of various stripes, like Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia, were popular. A movie that I really like in this genre starred a gambler. Like Humphrey Bogart’s Dead Reckoning, this film doesn’t appear on any top ten lists, but it doesn’t feature a private eye, and it’s a ‘could have been really good’ film.

Like James Cagney and George Raft, Dick Powell was a successful song and dance man in Hollywood. Then, he was surprisingly cast as Raymond Chandler’s world-weary Phililp Marlowe in Murder My Sweet, and he nailed the part. That 1944 effort was the first of four hardboiled films he made in a five-movie span, of which Johnny O’Clock was the third.

Picking Iron (trivia) – This new side of Powell made him perfect for the singing, funny, tough radio PI, Richard Diamond (I love that series).

Powell plays the title character, and he’s manager of a fancy (and legal) gambling joint in NYC. He dresses well, knows lots of people, and lives in a fancy apartment with an ex-con named Charlie, who is his jack of all trades assistant.

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