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

 

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