Random musings: Happy Birthday to Bill Cosby

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Wonderfulness

Today, July 12, the great Bill Cosby— my favorite stand-up comedian— turns 77-year-old.

One of the great things about Cosby’s humor (and this was emphasized on the back of his album Why Is There Air?) is that he tells stories, not jokes punctuated with punch lines. What’s more, his delivery of lines that would be neutral statements if taken out of context is such that he brings the house down.

And his routines remain timeless.

To the best of my recollection, I first encountered Cosby’s humor when I checked one of his albums out of the library around 1982 or so. I think it was When I Was a Kid. I own all but one of his comedy albums (Sports) and I can recite many routines by heart, even ones I haven’t heard in years.

A few of Cosby’s comedy albums include Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right!; Wonderfulness; Why is There Air?; I Started Out As a Child; To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With (which Chris Rock singled out for praise at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2009 when Cosby was honored with the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor); Bill Cosby Himself and Revenge.

Among my favorites of his routines are the “Noah” trilogy, “Noah: Right!”, “Noah and the Neighbor” and “Noah: Me and You, Lord.”; “Superman”; “Oops”; “Neanderthal Man”; “The Lone Ranger”; and “Chicken Heart.”

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Cosby’s comedy even found its way into I Spy, the 1960s series he co-starred in with the late Robert Culp. There’s a scene in the episode “The Honorable Assassins” in which Alexander Scott (Cosby) and Kelly Robinson (Culp) make oblique references to Cosby the comedian. In the scene, the two men wake up in the middle of the night, ready to set out on a journey, only to discover several snakes on the floor of their room. This prompts Scott to tell the snakes to get out of there, leading Robinson to say that it reminds him of a comedy record.

“Yeah? Well, it’s not too funny now,” Scott replies.

They’re alluding to the “Chicken Heart” routine, which relates— among other things— how, before they went out for the evening, the young Cosby’s parents told him that invisible poisonous snakes around his bed would bite him and make him dead until morning if he got out of bed (to go into the living room and listen to Lights Out on the radio). Indignant, the young Cosby shouts, “snakes, you get out here! This is not your room, this is my room! Now you get out of here!”

Other I Spy episodes made reference to characters in Cosby routines (such as “Old Weird Harold”), but “The Honorable Assassins” had the character of Alexander Scott commenting (without naming names) on the humor of the real Bill Cosby.

Some of the humor from Cosby’s comedy albums— including a funeral for a goldfish— also found its way into his popular 1980s series The Cosby Show. Though, to the best of my recollection, there was never an instance where the character of Cliff Huxtable made an oblique reference to the real Bill Cosby.

On the other hand, in the “My Spy” episode of the 1990s TV series, Cosby, Cosby’s character, Hilton Lucas, falls asleep while watching an I Spy marathon and dreams that he’s Alexander Scott. Robert Culp guest-starred in the episode as Kelly Robinson.

If you don’t already own a Cosby comedy album, you’re missing out on some great stuff. And if you get a chance to see him live in concert, you should definitely do so.

Happy birthday, Mr. Cosby.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: Remembering Bob Hastings

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(Bob Hastings at the 1999 Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention. Photo by Patrick Keating.)

Bob Hastings died June 30 at the age of 89.

Younger audiences might know him best as the voice of Commissioner Gordon in Batman: The Animated Series, but Hastings had a long and varied career. He voiced Archie Andrews on radio for about eight years after he got out of the Army Air Corp in World War II and was a frequent guest performer on the radio series X-Minus One. He also co-starred in the adventure serial The Sea Hound and was a regular on the children’s show Coast-to-Coast on a Bus. To name just a few of his radio credits.

His TV roles included the voice of Clark Kent/Superboy in the 1966 Superboy animated series; Lt. Carpenter on McHale’s Navy; Capt. Burt Ramsey on General Hospital; Tommy Kelsey on All in the Family; and guest spots on shows such as Captain Video and His Video Rangers (in which his brother, Don, played the Video Ranger); The Twilight Zone; The Incredible Hulk; The Rockford Files; The Dukes of Hazzard; and Remington Steele. He also did various voices on animated series over the years.

Hastings was also a frequent guest at the annual Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention (now the Cincinnati Nostalgia Expo). At the 2003 convention, I had the honor of watching him perform in a radio play I’d written for that year’s convention.

I first met Bob Hastings at the 1999 Cincinnati OTR convention and interviewed him for an article on the continuing appeal of old-time radio. It appeared in Zoom! Magazine, the in-flight magazine of Vanguard Airlines, in 2002. He told me the beauty of radio is that an actor can play any type of character.

“That’s all we did in those days,” he said. “We all did different kinds of accents.”

One thing he told me that didn’t make it into the article was that working on an animated series is the same as working on radio, except for the set up.

“The big difference, actually, is in radio you stood opposite each other and you played,” he said. “When you do these cartoon series, everybody has his own little spot, so you’re never looking at the actor you’re working with.”

Hastings also said there were little partitions between the actors; and that both he and Mark Hamill (who played the Joker) liked to stand up during tapings.

“If everybody’s there, you just do the whole show. Just like you would regularly,” he said. “Otherwise somebody reads the part of the person who isn’t there. It’s radio. I loved radio. The best actors I ever worked with were radio actors. By far, because you had to be an actor.”

Hastings started as a singer. In 1939, he commuted from New York to Chicago to sing on the radio show National Barn Dance until his voice changed on the air. He still sang as an adult. In 1967, he released an album called Bob Hastings Sings for the Family.

The late Hal Stone, who played Jughead on Archie Andrews, wrote in his autobiography, Aw… Relax, Archie! Re-laxx! (page 213), that Hastings was once hired to be one of the celebrities making appearances at the Universal Studios tourist attraction; and that he became known as the “mayor” of the Universal Studios tour.

The Cincinnati convention is a casual affair. Hastings and other radio actors mingled with the other attendees. In fact, the convention’s casual nature could lead to some fun moments. One year Hastings performed the lead in a re-creation of a detective program. When his character demanded some information, one of the other performers ad-libbed Jughead’s “relax” line from the opening of Archie Andrews.

Hastings gave him a look that was beyond priceless; but pro that he was, he continued on with his lines, unfazed.

In his autobiography, Stone wrote that Hastings, “didn’t become afflicted with the ‘smell me, I’m a star’ Hollywood nonsense.” That’s certainly true. In this age of “reality” shows and people who are famous for being famous more so than for any significant accomplishments, it’s good to know that at least one “celebrity” was as ordinary and down-to-earth as the rest of us. I put “celebrity” in quotes because I doubt Bob Hastings ever used that word to describe himself.

Rest well, Mr. Hastings.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

 

Random Musings: Life on Mars is a police procedural with a few twists.

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Manchester Police Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Sam Tyler (John Simm) is hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. By all indications— the papers on him and in a car near where he awakens, his clothing, statements from others, etc.— he’s a denizen of 1973, Detective Inspector (DI) Sam Tyler, recently transferred from Hyde.

For Sam, who finds himself working with DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Detective Sergeant (DS) Ray Carling (Dean Andrews), Detective Constable (DC) Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) and Woman Police Constable (WPC, later DC) Annie Cartwright (Liz White), 1973 might as well be another planet.

Life on Mars ran for two seasons of eight episodes each; and the creators made a deliberate decision to end it at that point.

“Maybe to go out on a high is not the worst thing in the world,” co-creator Ashley Pharoah said in “The End of Life on Mars” documentary on the DVDs.

Co-creator Matthew Graham added that they knew how the series would end and that he was worried about stretching it out.

John Simm agreed that you should leave the audience wanting more.

In the opening narration, Sam rhetorically asks, “am I mad, in a coma or back in time?” Throughout the series, context clues point in each of those directions.

It would seem unlikely that Sam’s a 1973 resident gone mad, since we first see him in the actual 2006, not that year as someone from 1973 might have imagined it. Plus, he references things that no one in 1973 would have known about, including mobile phones, the theatrical version of The Fugitive and Robocop.

Suggestions that Sam might be in a coma come from his hearing the occasional voice talking to or about him over the radio or his seeing people on TV turn to the camera and speak to him.

The fact that the world of 1973 has more detail— and consistent detail at that— than anyone could dream up suggests that he has, in fact, traveled back in time.

As Sam tries to figure out the reason he’s in 1973 (or appears to be), he continues to function as a police officer, albeit one step down in rank from his 2006 position. He struggles not only to adjust to a department where modern investigative techniques either haven’t been adopted or don’t yet exist, but also to get his co-workers (especially Gene) to embrace things like tape recording interviews with suspects, forensic science and conducting investigations more with one’s mind than with one’s fists.

He butts heads with both Gene and Ray (Gene’s protégé), but he and Gene do come to learn something from the other. Chris and Annie also embrace some of Sam’s ideas regarding police work. Sam also is instrumental in getting Annie promoted, though she still faces a great deal of chauvinism from her fellow officers.

Annie is also the only one to whom Sam tells his tale of being from 2006. She doesn’t believe she’s just a figment of his imagination, of course.

In the opening narration, Sam speculates that if he can work out the reason he’s in 1973, he can get home. In the final episode, he’s reached a conclusion as to whether he’s mad, in a coma or back in time, which leads to his taking certain steps to resolve his dilemma. Steps that could have significant consequences for the others.

That episode had a few surprises, but I suspect a lot of viewers never expected anything like the final scene. In “The End of Life on Mars” documentary, Executive Producer Claire Parker explained that they’d chosen that ending as a nod to the fact that Life on Mars wasn’t an ordinary series.

“Just when you think you know what’s going on, something else will hopefully surprise you and make you smile,” she said. “And that’s hopefully what we did with the end of the series.”

Life on Mars also offers a subtle commentary about our own times.

“Everybody’s in their own insular world, even when [Sam’s] on the bridge and everybody’s on the phone,” director S.J. Clarkson said in the documentary, regarding a particular 2006 scene. “And when he’s sitting down in the courtyard, everybody’s walking past him. Nobody’s paying him any attention. Which is so different from the world we’d created in 1973.”

Her comment doesn’t just apply to the fictional Manchester of a TV series. Look around next time you’re out and about. Chances are you’ll see people paying more attention to a small, rectangular plastic device in their hands than to those around them. In many ways, the world of 1973 might as well be another planet compared to today, but at least back then people interacted with each other face-to-face.

Not only is Life on Mars peppered with David Bowie songs (including that one), but it also contains several references to The Wizard of Oz. These include Gene calling Sam “Dorothy” several times and making a specific reference to the Wizard. There’s also a character called Frank Morgan, the name of the actor who played the Wizard in the 1939 movie.

A 17-episode U.S. version aired in 2008 and was set in New York. It also had a different ending. Which is fine, because it was its own thing and didn’t need to emulate its British counterpart in every way.

Two bits of irony regarding Life on Mars: First, in the fifth episode of the first season Annie asks Sam, “no more funny stuff? You know, the whole time travel, out of body experience thing?” He replies, “I’ve been to see Dr. Who, and he prescribed me some pills.” The irony? John Simm would subsequently be cast as the Master in Doctor Who.

Irony the second? Sam was named for Rose Tyler, companion to the Doctor’s ninth and tenth incarnations. When the original surname of Williams was rejected, Graham asked his daughter for her input regarding a new last name. She suggested “Tyler.” He later learned she’d chosen it because she liked Rose Tyler from Doctor Who.

Life On Mars is a well-written and well-acted series that would make a good addition to anyone’s home DVD library.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Orphan Black is an engaging mystery

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If you haven’t been watching Orphan Black (Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America), you’re missing out. This is an excellent show and its star, Tatiana Maslany, brilliantly carries off playing multiple characters (each with a different look, attitude, body language and accent).

Now in its second season (the season finale airs tonight), Orphan Black concerns a group of women who, until very recently, had never known of each other’s existence: Sarah Manning, a young British woman with a criminal past who was trying to start a new life; uptight “soccer mom” Alison Hendrix; PhD candidate Cosima Niehaus; religious fanatic Helena (no last name given); and corporate powerhouse Rachel Duncan.

These very different women— all played by Maslany— are shocked to discover that they’re clones and caught up in the machinations of corporate, medical and religious groups.

Well, most of them are shocked. Rachel always knew the truth and Helena, believing herself the original and that the others are abominations, killed a number of clones before the events of the series began.

Fortunately, Sarah, who has learned that Helena is her biological twin, has managed to curb Helena’s murderous impulses. They’ve even been on a road trip together.

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    (Helena and Sarah bond on a road trip. Photo courtesy BBC America).

    The first season opened with Sarah watching a woman who looks just like her step in front of a subway train. Grabbing the purse the woman— Beth Childs— left on the platform, Sarah decided to step into Beth’s life as a way of “disappearing.”

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    (Beth Childs about to commit suicide. Photo courtesy BBC America)

    Too bad for her Beth turned out to be a cop facing a disciplinary board for the shooting of an unarmed civilian.

    That was just the start of her troubles. Sarah’s scheme to impersonate Beth— reinforced by the realization that Beth had $75,000 in the bank— led her to become embroiled in the “Clone Club.”

And not just her. The revelation that Sarah is a clone has affected her daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler); her foster brother, Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris); and her foster mother, Mrs. S., AKA Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who clearly knows more about what’s going on than she’s telling.

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(Sarah, Felix, Alison (on monitor) and Cosima discuss their mutual concerns. Photo courtesy BBC America).

    And, of course, the other clones’ lives have been turned upside down as well. Alison, believing her friend Aynsley Norris (Natalie Lisinska) was aware of her status as a clone and monitoring her, stood by and allowed Aynsley to die when her scarf got caught in a garbage disposal.

    She later learned that her own husband, Donnie (Kristian Bruun), was her monitor. A fact that has put a considerable strain on their marriage. One made worse by the fact that Donnie was in the dark about the true nature of the “sociological experiment” he believed was taking place.

Beth’s partner, Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard), now knows about the clones and has become an ally. As you might imagine, he was less-than-pleased when he learned that Beth was dead and that Sarah had stepped into her life.

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(Sarah-as-Beth talks with Art. Photo courtesy BBC America)

Unfortunately, Art’s current partner, Detective Angela DeAngelis (Inga Cadranel) is proving herself anything but an ally. She has taken it upon herself to investigate Alison, who, aside from resembling Sarah and Beth, has done nothing illegal so far as the police are concerned. DeAngelis has even recruited Sarah’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Vic, (Michael Mando), currently in rehab with Alison, to dig up dirt on her, with the promise that his own criminal charges would go away. Donnie Hendrix recently confronted the two, warning DeAngelis— who is clearly acting outside her authority— to stay away from his family.

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(Donnie Hendrix photographing Vic with Detective DeAngelis. Photo courtesy BBC America).

    Frankly, DeAngelis deserves whatever happens to her.

    Even as all this is taking place, the clones struggle to understand the nature of an illness that threatens to kill Cosima and which has already killed a clone named Jennifer Fitzsimmons. And would have killed a clone named Katya Obinger if Helena’s bullet hadn’t gotten to her first. Unfortunately for Cosima, Rachel is more than willing to withhold treatment in order to get what she wants from Sarah. In last week’s episode, Rachel even went so far as to impersonate Sarah to kidnap Kira.

Several mysteries abound in Orphan Black. We still don’t know why Beth committed suicide or how many clones there are. Or whether anyone will learn that Donnie Hendrix accidentally killed Dyad Institute Director Dr. Aldous Leakie (Matt Frewer). Or even whose side Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce), Beth’s boyfriend and monitor, is really on.

Even if some of these questions are answered in tonight’s season finale, I’ve no doubt even more will be raised.

    If you like mystery stories, Orphan Black is a hell of a good one.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

 

Random Musings: Thoughts on tonight’s Arrow season finale.

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(Arrow title card. Photo courtesy the CW.)

The second season finale of Arrow (based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow) airs tonight on the CW, with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who operates in Starling City as the vigilante known as the Arrow, going up against his former friend Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett).

A lot has changed since the mid season point. Police officer Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), recently restored to his rank of detective, is now a staunch supporter of the vigilante he’d once been determined to capture. He doesn’t know the Arrow’s identity, but his daughter, Laurel (Katie Cassidy) does. Lance insisted she not tell him.

Laurel also knows that her sister, Sara (Caity Lotz), is the vigilante known as the Canary (called the Black Canary in the comics).

And hours before she died, Oliver’s mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson) revealed that she knew his secret.

We haven’t learned how Moira learned the truth, but Wilson told Laurel. He also told Thea Queen (Willa Holland), that Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), not the late Robert Queen (Jamey Sheridan), is her father.

Merlyn, who precipitated an attack on a poorer section of town called the Glades at the end of the first season— and whom Oliver believes to be dead, returned last week and confirmed the truth.

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(Malcolm Merlyn confronts Thea Queen. Photo courtesy the CW).

Thea wanted nothing to do with him and shot him.

Prior to the series’ opening episode, Oliver had spent five years marooned on a hellish island. There, he befriended Wilson, an Australian intelligence agent, who helped teach the then-callow youth how to survive. At one point, Wilson suffered severe injuries and Oliver made a desperate gamble to save his life. He injected his friend with an experimental chemical called Mirakuru, created by the Japanese during World War II. The fatality rate was high, but survivors gained enhanced strength.

They also underwent drastic personality changes, including bouts of rage. At one point during their time on the island, a Mirakuru-affected Wilson held a gun to Oliver’s head before regaining his self control.

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(On the island, Oliver Queen helps a Mirakuru-affected Slade Wilson remain calm. Photo courtesy the CW.)

That wouldn’t last, however. Wilson regarded Oliver as his enemy once he discovered that Oliver had chosen to save Sara Lance instead of a woman named Shado (Celina Jade), when a man named Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal) had held a gun to the women’s heads and made Oliver decide who would live.

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(Anthony Ivo demands that Oliver choose between Sara and Shado. Photo courtesy the CW.)

Wilson also suffers from hallucinations of Shado urging him to exact revenge. He recently recreated Ivo’s actions by abducting Oliver, Moira and Thea, taking them into some woods and demanding that Oliver choose whether his mother or sister would live. Moira made the decision for Oliver, offering her life in place of Thea’s. Wilson ran her through with his sword, severed Thea’s bonds and walked away, promising that “one more would die.”

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(Slade Wilson kills Moira Queen. Photo courtesy the CW.)

Moira had been running for mayor against Alderman Sebastian Blood (Kevin Alejandro), a friend of Oliver’s and an ally of Wilson’s (though none of the Queens had known that at the time). Moira’s death propelled Blood into the mayor’s office. Oliver subsequently told him that he was the Arrow and Blood informed Oliver that the “one more” to die would be whomever Oliver loves most.

I’m guessing Wilson will kill Sara. After all, Oliver saved her rather than Shado. Also, since Dinah Laurel Lance is the Black Canary in the comics, Sara’s death would move Laurel one step closer to taking on that role in Arrow.

During their confrontation in the woods, Oliver learned about Wilson’s hallucinations. Wilson acknowledged that Shado wasn’t his, but Oliver’s. However, the fact that Oliver chose to save another woman enraged him all the more.

Oliver told Sara— and others— that he did choose her, but when Ivo threatened the two women, it looked to me as if Oliver had charged straight at him. Either way, he was faced with an impossible choice. Even if he was in love with Shado, he’d known Sara for years— possibly her entire life— and had been involved with her.

If I ever happen to be at a convention attended by Manu Bennett, I’d be interested in getting his take on this question: If Slade Wilson had never been injected with Mirakuru, would he still have held Oliver responsible (more so than Ivo, in fact) for Shado’s death? I’m guessing he wouldn’t.

Wilson’s vendetta extends to destroying Starling City. With Blood’s help, he’s created an army of men and women— including several escaped prisoners— who’ve been injected with Mirakuru and who’ve attacked the city. When Blood realized Wilson meant to destroy his beloved city, he delivered a serum that’ll reverse Mirakuru’s effects to Oliver. Wilson had him killed for doing so.

A few weeks ago, Oliver was determined to find a cure and “save” his former friend. Last week, he used it on Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), Thea’s boyfriend, whom Blood had injected with Mirakuru earlier in the season; but given recent events, Wilson is past saving in Oliver’s mind.

I’ve written before about how the Slade Wilson of Arrow compares and contrasts with his comics counterpart, the mercenary known as [Deathstroke the] Terminator. One significant difference is that the Wilson of Arrow would kill millions to achieve his goal. In the comics, Terminator took out a reluctant contract against the Teen Titans (to fulfill his late son’s obligation). He also has a code of honor, despite being an assassin. In Tales of the Teen Titans #55 (July 1985), written by Marv Wolfman, he has this conversation with Gar Logan, the Titan called Changeling, as they eat lunch together in a diner:

Wilson: “You called me a villain. Never thought of myself as that. I’m a mercenary. A soldier for hire.”

Logan: “You kill people.”

Wilson. “I’m a soldier. I don’t steal or kill for personal gain. I have a strict code of ethics.”

And later, as Wilson gets up to leave:

Logan: “I keep thinking I should stop you.”

Wilson: “But the courts won’t imprison me [he’d been found not guilty of kidnapping a man]. Look, my crimes are locked inside my head… And you’ve expunged yours from your soul. I think you’ll be doing a helluva lot better than I will. Take care of yourself, kid.”

I doubt Wilson will ever have a conversation like that with Oliver. Which is a tragedy, because he’d once been a good man. In a first season flashback to the island, Wilson, Oliver and Shado prevented a man named Edward Fyers (Sebastian Dunn) from firing a missile at an airplane and starting a war.

Government agent Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), aware of the danger a Mirakuru-affected army poses, has given Oliver only hours to administer the serum. If he fails, she intends to bomb the city to stop Wilson’s army. I think we can safely say that Oliver will succeed in delivering the “antidote” (most likely in aerosol form) to Wilson’s army, but it’s an open question as to whether Wilson himself will be cured.

My guess: he’ll be restored to normal and will redeem himself by making some noble sacrifice.

If not that, he’ll either die fighting Oliver or be imprisoned. But he’ll no longer have his enhanced abilities. If he did, he could just synthesize Mirakuru from his own blood again. And that’d be a redundant storyline.

Arrow’s too good a series to re-tread the same ground.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

 

 

Random Musings: I Love a Mystery offered radio listeners thrills and chills

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You and your two comrades-in-arms have come to Los Angeles to spend $25,000. Instead, you become embroiled in a curious situation: At the home of a wealthy family, a baby cries whenever tragedy is about to strike. But there hasn’t been a baby in the house for 20 years. Amid killings and attempted killings, one of the daughters claims an unseen “they” are responsible.

Bit of a skull-buster, huh?

For you and me, maybe. But that’s an average day for Jack Packard, Doc Long and Reggie York.

Jack, Doc and Reggie were the principal characters in one of radio’s best adventure shows— I Love a Mystery.

The brain-child of Carlton E. Morse, who also created the long-running radio soap opera One Man’s Family, I Love a Mystery had runs in both Hollywood and New York. The “Hollywood” series starred Michael Raffetto, Jay Novello and John McIntire as Jack; Barton Yarborough as Doc; and Walter Paterson as Reggie. The New York version starred Russell Thorson and Bob Dryden as Jack; Jim Boles as Doc; and Tony Randall as Reggie.

The trio are adventurers and soldiers of fortune, though not in the ordinary sense, as Jack tells one client. “But the term does help explain us,” he says. “We like excitement. When we find something that interests us, we go after it.”

They met while fighting for China against Japan. According to The I Love a Mystery Companion by Martin Grams, Jr.(pages 55 & 56), they’d gotten into trouble and had extricated themselves from their respective situations by putting their papers on three unrecognizable bodies after a bloody battle.

Jack, the leader, has medical experience and is dismissive of the supernatural. Texan Doc loves a good fight and has an eye for the ladies. Reggie, an Englishman, is the most chivalrous, a skilled mechanic and a good fighter.

The “Hollywood” series ran from 1939-1944. It started on the west coast on the NBC Red Network before going nationwide. It then moved to NBC Blue (which later became ABC), and then to CBS.

The 1949-1952 New York run aired on Mutual.

According to The I Love a Mystery Companion (page 55), there were 52 serials. Most comprised 15 or 20 chapters. Some were re-titled for the Mutual run. The story described above was called “Hollywood Cherry” when it aired on NBC in 1939. It was called “The Thing That Cries in the Night” on Mutual in 1949.

Mutual also rearranged the episode order. “Hollywood Cherry” was broadcast well into the Hollywood run. It was the second story of the mutual run.

There’s a 98 percent probability that all the episodes exist (I Love a Mystery Companion, page 356). However, most appear to be in the hands of private collectors. To the best of my knowledge, only three storylines (all from the New York run) are in circulation. Four, if you extend the definition of “in circulation” to include Jim Harmon’s 1996 authorized re-creation of “The Fear That Creeps Like a Cat” and/or the 1985 comic strip adaptation of that story, published by Moonstone Comics in 2004(though the comic used the past tense “crept.”). These stories, which follow one after the other, are “The Thing That Cries in the Night,” “Bury Your Dead, Arizona” and “The Million Dollar Curse.” That last was called “The San Diego Murders” in the original run, though I’ve also heard it called “The Richards’ Curse.”

“The Fear That Creeps Like a Cat” (originally called “Castle Island”) concerns the search for a man named Alexander Archer; and it’s the reward money from that case that Jack, Doc and Reggie planned to spend.

After the events of “The Thing That Cries in the Night”, the trio hop a freight. Not just to avoid police entanglements, but also because of Doc’s “disagreement” with some gamblers. The darkened boxcar also carries an obese magician called The Maestro and his young assistant, Nasha. The Maestro’s self-proclaimed great powers include changing her into a snarling animal and making a dead body found in the boxcar disappear. More mysterious things occur when all five are marooned in the town of Bury Your Dead, Arizona after the boxcar had been dropped off at a siding.

Or maybe werewolves are commonplace in that community?

Still determined to spend their $25,000 (I guess retirement planning wasn’t a high priority for those three), Jack, Doc and Reggie next find themselves in San Diego, awaiting the delivery of a made-to-order airplane. They plan to go to South America. While there, they meet orphaned heiress Sunny Richards, who believes she’s the focus of a curse that strikes women in her family every other generation. People close to her keep dying.

The next storyline, “Temple of the Vampires”, is described by Grams as “one of the most frightening of all I Love a Mystery serials.” (I Love a Mystery Companion page 79) Maybe one day we’ll have an opportunity to hear it, to determine whether it lives up to the hype.

Yes, there have likely been re-creations done from the script, but I’d like to hear that story as broadcast in 1940 and/or 1950.

Grams also pointed out that “Temple of the Vampires” marks the first time Morse broke his rule that his mysteries had rational, scientific explanations.

As I said in my post about keeping audio adventures alive, I Love A Mystery could work in audio format today. The characters and some of the dialogue would need to be updated, however. Any work of popular fiction will reflect, to some degree, the era in which it was made. Certain attitudes and preconceptions existed in the 1930s and 1940s which don’t today. Or at least aren’t as prevalent. To a modern listener, Jack’s comments in one adventure to an unseen woman about women in general paint him as misogynistic at worst, immature at best.

In another story, one of the preconceptions of the era leads Jack to not even consider that a particular person might be a suspect.

I Love A Mystery is “evergreen” in another way. The exploits of a trio of “soldiers of fortune” could easily take place in any time period.

Whether or not the Morse estate ever allows new re-creations, or other existing episodes become available, we still have several hours of exciting tales of Jack, Doc and Reggie for our listening enjoyment.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

 

Random Musings: On radio, criminals felt the sting of the Green Hornet

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“He hunts the biggest of all game— public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach.”— (from one version of the opening of the Green Hornet radio show)

He is the Green Hornet, a man who poses as a criminal to take down criminals.

Broadcast from Detroit station WXYZ, The Green Hornet premiered Jan. 31, 1936 on the seven-station Michigan Radio Network. It was one of the great shows of the radio era, running until December 1952. It was also a 13-chapter 1940 serial; a 1966-67 TV series; a 2011 feature film; and has had several comicbook incarnations.

The Green Hornet— one of my favorite radio shows— was created by WXYZ owner George W. Trendle and scriptwriter Fran Striker, the two men who were part of the ensemble that created The Lone Ranger in 1933 and Challenge of The Yukon (AKA Sergeant Preston of the Yukon) in 1947.

Britt Reid was the “daring young publisher” of the Daily Sentinel, a crusading newspaper that fought against corrupt politicians, racketeers and other criminals. According to The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics, and Television, by radio historians Martin Grams, Jr. and Terry Salomonson, Trendle instructed Striker to aim the program at young people approaching voting age.

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“I want to do something to show young men how crooked office holders can be, and what they have to do to stop it… that they have to get out and vote…,” Trendle said (page 9).

Britt’s need to fight for justice must be genetic. His father, Dan, was the Lone Ranger’s nephew. However, unlike his granduncle, who was acknowledged as a good guy (after some initial misunderstandings), Britt encouraged the belief that the Hornet was a criminal. All the better to dismantle rackets from within and/or to trick criminals into turning on each other.

In conjunction with his mask, the Hornet wore an ordinary business suit. Were he to remove the mask, he could walk down the street without anyone giving him a second glance.

Brief aside: that was also true of the Lone Ranger as depicted on radio and in older comics. In From Out of the Past: The Pictorial History of the Lone Ranger (pages 158-159), Dave Holland notes that in the May 9, 1945 radio episode, the Ranger removed his mask to blend in with a posse that had been chasing him.

“Can you imagine someone in powder blue getting away with that?” he writes, referring to the form-fitting outfit worn by Clayton Moore beginning with the 1956 Lone Ranger movie.

Holland also notes that in the comics of his youth, the Ranger “wore clothes that any other male characters might have worn.”

That makes sense. Just as it makes sense for the Hornet to wear a standard business suit.

The Hornet wasn’t a superhero, but he was a news-maker, like Superman. However, unlike reporter Clark Kent’s absences when Supes was around, Britt didn’t need to explain himself. Anyone spotting the Hornet didn’t look around and ask, “hey, anyone seen Mr. Reid?” If Britt wasn’t in the office, most everyone assumed he was either at home or at the Civic Club.

And unlike Clark— who bizarrely hung out with the same people in both identities— when Britt was acting as the Hornet, he didn’t talk to people who knew him as Britt Reid and would recognize his voice.

That’s not to say no one ever suspected him. A private detective— and supposed friend— named Oliver Perry tried without success to prove Britt was the Hornet several times.

Just as the Lone Ranger was assisted by Tonto, Britt fought crime with the help of his “faithful valet, Kato.” They patrolled the streets of his unnamed city (which had a waterfront, so it could have been Detroit) in the “sleek, super-powered” streamlined car called “The Black Beauty.”

Early on, Kato’s nationality was Japanese, but he later became identified as a Filipino. However, that change took place well before Pearl Harbor, so Japan’s attack on the U.S. wasn’t the reason for that alteration of nationality.

The original Kato actor, Raymond Toyo, was Japanese and got caught up in anti-Japanese sentiment. According to the Green Hornet book (page 81), the actor disappeared in 1942, “presumably to a concentration camp in the west.”

(In the serial, Kato (Keye Luke) was identified as Korean. According to the Green Hornet book (page 318), TV producer William Dozier gave that same nationality in response to various letters. Though, on page 79, it states that indirect references claimed he was Chinese.)

Al Hodge (later TV’s “Captain Video”), was the first of four actors to play the Hornet on radio. He also dubbed the Hornet’s voice in the Gordon Jones-led serial.

The TV series starred Van Williams and the late Bruce Lee. Although Dozier also produced the contemporaneous Adam West-led Batman series, The Green Hornet wasn’t done in the “camp” style of Batman. Ironically, that may be why it had such a short run.

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(Bruce Lee and Van Williams as  Kato and the Green Hornet)

The Hornet’s comicbook adventures began in 1940 with a 47 issue series published first by Holyoke Comics and then Harvey Comics. A three issue series based on the TV show was published by Gold Key Comics in 1967. From 1989 to 1995, Now Comics published two Green Hornet series, running 14 issues and 40 issues respectively, plus several ancillary titles. More recently, Dynamite Entertainment has published several titles.

The Now Comics series established a “Hornet Dynasty” of radio-era Hornet Britt Reid; his nephew Britt Reid II as the TV-era Hornet; and his nephew, concert pianist Paul Reid as the 1990s Hornet (with Paul’s older brother, Alan, having briefly taken up the mantle before being killed on his first mission).

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(Now Comics’ Green Hornet Vol. 1 #1 (2nd printing)

Similarly, the TV Kato (named Hayashi Kato in the Now Comics series) was established as the son of the radio-era Ikano Kato. Both Hayashi and his sister, Mishi, worked alongside Paul.

The Now Comics series was initially written by Ron Fortier, who researched The Green Hornet for about six months before showing his presentation package to the rights holders. End result: an excellent blending of the radio and TV eras and late 20th century adventures. In fact, my only real complaint about the Now Comics series was that Fortier continually spelled “all right” as one word.

As to the 2011 movie, it had both positive and negative aspects. I liked that even as a child, Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) tried to help people (in that instance, a little girl being picked on by bullies); and that fighting back against bullies was part of his impetus to become the Hornet.

On the other hand, at one point, Kato (Jay Chou) accused Britt of acting like it was all a game. Kato was right. Hopefully, if there’s a sequel, Britt will be more mature.

Of course, every subsequent incarnation owes a debt to the radio show. If not for it, none of them would have existed. Many episodes are available from vendors like Radio Spirits (www.radiospirits.com) or Salomonson’s Audio Classic Archives (http://www.audio-classics.com/welcome.html) for your listening pleasure.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.