Saturday, January 23, 2010

“The smartest and the stubbornest…the fattest and the laziest…the cleverest and the craziest…the most extravagant detective in the world…”

Old-time radio fans will no doubt recognize those words of tribute as the introduction to The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe—an underrated radio detective series that utilized truly inspired casting by assigning the role of mystery author Rex Stout’s fastidious gourmet and orchid fancier to the great character actor Sydney Greenstreet. (By Gadfrey, sir!) Twenty episodes from the series’ short-lived 1950-51 run are now being offered at Radio Archives in celebration of FGRA’s tenth anniversary—and I must confess that I had a ball writing the liner notes for this project because of my love for both the detective and the actor. (You simply haven’t lived until you’ve heard my and Elisson’s rendition of What a Wonderful World, sung in a Greenstreet-like manner. On second thought…maybe you have.) This 10-CD set would be the perfect gift for a mystery fan; Stout himself thought Greenstreet a perfect fit for the role (though he wasn't too fond of the show's writing).

Radio Archives is also releasing a new title in their popular pulp fiction reprints: The Whisperer, published by Street & Smith in the mid 1930s and created by journalist Lawrence L. Donovan (writing under the nom de pulp as “Clifford Goodrich”). “The Whisperer” was the secret identity of Police Commissioner James “Wildcat” Gordon, who used the super-crook altar-ego in a never-ending pursuit for justice. “The Whisperer” made his debut in a tale entitled The Dead Who Talked in the fall of 1936, and this tale—along with a second, The Red Hatchets—is included in the first volume of reprints published by Sanctum Books (with many more to come) under the editorial eye of OTR’s one-and-only Anthony Tollin. That first volume is also available now at the Archives, and if you’re interested in reading the history of this crime fighter, click here for the full skinny.

On a personal note, I just want to mention that I am truly ga-ga over the new packaging being offered by the Archives for their CD collections…if you’ll allow me to shift into old fogey mode for just a few seconds, I remember when their sets came in simple white CD envelopes secured with a rubber band—and we were damn lucky to have them! (Okay, back away from the abyss.) Radio Archives’ latest newsletter touts some of their musically-oriented selections—particularly this first-rate set (that’s it on the left) of The Kraft Music Hall with Al Jolson, a copy of which I own here at Rancho Yesteryear and because I didn’t write the liner notes can vouch that it is truly a set you’ll want to add to your OTR collection. Five CDs containing ten half-hour broadcasts starring Jolie and sidekick Oscar Levant, the guest list includes Ed “Archie the Manager” Gardner, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Dennis Day, Groucho Marx and Roy Rogers & Dale Evans. At $14.95 for the set, it’s awfully hard to beat.

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mike doran said...

No, I haven't heard your Greenstreet take on "Wonderful World", but I have heard Paul Frees's Sydney-ized version of the Archies's "Sugar Sugar", if that counts for anything.

(It's on a 1970 LP called Paul Frees And The Poster People, for which I yearn for a CD rerelease. You also get to hear Peter Lorre doing "Hey Jude" and W.C. Fields 's "Mama Told Me Not To Come, among others.)

Brent McKee said...

There wa also a Whisperer radio series that I've heard some examples of on my iPod. Not very good even though some very good people were involved.

Speaking of podcasts, there's a guy who does a series of podcasts focused around Jack Benny (he does three Benny programs a week the 1937-38 season, the 1939-40 season and the 1949-50 season), but it's not just Jack Benny. For a while on Saturdays he was running Red Skelton's earliest series Avalon Time which also featured Red's first wife Edna Stilwell. The bare bones are there but none of the great characters he'd develop later. Good stuff though.