Friday, July 22, 2011

Bela Lugosi on QUICK AS A FLASH

This one is for all you Bela Lugosi fans.

The novel quiz program with the mystery twist, Quick as a Flash, debuted over Mutual on Sunday, July 16, 1944. Created by director Richard Lewis and emcee Ken Roberts, the program offered listeners 30 minutes of fast-paced entertainment. Along with Lewis, the program was produced by Bernard Prockter, with mystery scripts penned by Eugene Wang. Historical events, movies, works of literature and famous situations were dramatized in short skits or by musical selections conducted by Ray Bloch and the Helbros Orchestra. The highlight of each program was the Helbros Derby, featuring a guest detective in a mystery fair enough for even the radio audience to guess the solution.

Photo courtesy of Terry Salomonson.

With mystery vignettes featuring clues hidden in the action, the quiz program gave six studio contestants ample opportunity to don fore-and-aft cap and a mental magnifying glass to track down the villainous malefactor for cash awards. Initially sponsored by the Helbros Watch Company, a wristwatch was also awarded as a prize. Among the guest detectives was Lamont Cranston, alias The Shadow. Jay Jostyn was featured as Mr. District Attorney in the premiere episode. Former NYPD Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine, known for his role as the Gang Busters narrator, was featured on the broadcast of December 2, 1945. The Sheriff, as portrayed by Robert Haag, then later by Don Briggs, appeared so often he could have been mistaken as a regular on the program. That master of accents and disguises, Karl Swenson as Mr. Chameleon, made numerous performances. Dr. Benjamin Ordway (Everett Sloane and House Jameson) presented trials from the Crime Doctor series.

Ken Roberts
Many of the guest appearances were established to help cross-promote programs that aired over Mutual. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Burke, played by Basil Rathbone, hosted one whodunit. Rathbone appeared on the quiz show a mere 10 days following the January 21, 1947, start of the Burke program on MBS. The final episode of the season, the broadcast of June 3, 1945, featured Jean and Pat Abbott, newlywed private detectives based on Frances Crane’s crime stories. Their appearance on the show was clearly to promote their new series, which was to premier on June 10 in the same time slot as a summer replacement for Quick as a Flash. They came back again for the same reason in June of 1946 and 1947.

Photo of Ken Roberts courtesy of the Bill Fox Collection, Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University. Reprinted with signed permission.

Guest detectives who originated from other networks, however, did not receive the same consideration. At the close of every episode, a mention of the program on which they could be heard weekly was extended by the announcer. However, if it was not a Mutual show, there was no mention of day or time or the rival network. One example was on September 17, 1944, when Raymond Edward Johnson (of Inner Sanctum Mystery) displayed his horrific wit. Did CBS allow him to bring the creaking door or were the Mutual soundmen charged with a most difficult task of creating a duplicate? The Columbia Broadcasting System was never referenced by name. 

A scheduling conflict among programs was the “case” for David Harding, Counterspy, who, during the 1944-45 and 1945-46 seasons appeared on at least six occasions. In the fall of 1946, his program was slotted directly opposite Quick as a Flash at 5:30 p.m., preventing him from returning. When ABC juggled the schedule for 1948-49, not only did Don MacLaughlin return as a regular, he delighted all associated with the program by bringing back many listeners who had left with him. 

Before portraying Mark Chase, Don Briggs played that revered attorney, Perry Mason, in his lone appearance on April 21, 1946. In the milestone one-hundredth episode of December 8, 1946, Hercule Poirot (Harold Huber) voiced his sole escapade. Richard Keith was cast as Special Investigator Frank Brock and also as True Detective Mysteries editor John Shuttleworth on the programs of April 13, 1947, and May 23, 1948, respectively. Nero Wolfe (Luis Van Rooten) and Peter Salem (Santos Ortega) were two additional sleuths whose tenure was limited to a single performance. Two members of the “Press” who appeared often were Casey, Crime Photographer (Staats Cotsworth) of the Morning Express and the editor of Big Town’s Illustrated Press, Steve Wilson (Ed Pawley). A “host” of many a Helbros Derby was Geoffrey Barnes (Roc Rogers followed by Bernard Lenrow) of Mystery Theatre. As a group, private eyes, both amateurs and those on the professional side were featured most frequently, led by the grandfather of them all, Nick Carter (Lon Clark). Other notables included Mr. Keen (Bennett Kilpack), Charlie Chan (Ed Begley and Santos Ortega), Ellery Queen (Sidney Smith), Boston Blackie (Dick Kollmar) and The Fat Man (Jack Scott Smart). 

The Falcon was portrayed by three actors: James Meighan, Les Tremayne and Les Damon. Arguably, the character most associated with the program today is The Shadow. During the initial season of 1944-45, John Archer portrayed the illustrious crime fighter at least half-a-dozen times. It remains doubtful that his appearance on the quiz program was to promote his show since Quick as a Flash was broadcast next on Mutual. The Shadow’s appearance probably did more to promote the quiz program, as evidenced when the announcer closed specific Shadow broadcasts asking the listeners to stay tuned for The Shadow’s guest appearance.

Each script was penned by New Yorker Eugene Wang, a writer for several popular radio shows during the 1940s and 1950s, most notably The Adventures of the Falcon and The Amazing Mr. Malone. Wang never wrote for The Shadow, which means his scripts merely borrowed the fictional characters but did not follow the same format.

Throughout the calendar year of 1947, Hollywood celebrities began appearing on the program. Not as a contestants, but as participants of the mystery sketches. Ezra Stone, Martha Vickers and Bela Lugosi included. What? The actor who played Dracula on stage and screen in a mystery sketch? He sure did. (He actually appeared on radio more than 200 times by last count.) 

On the afternoon of May 18, 1947, Lugosi made a guest appearance on the quiz program, playing the role of a Hungarian detective, Dr. Heggi, in a drama titled "A Severe Case of Murder." Fans of Bela Lugosi know that a recording of this radio broadcast is not known to exist. The contract between Helbros and Mutual did not stipulate the arrangement of the broadcasts to be transcribed. After all, someone had to pay the bill and since neither saw a rhyme or reason to do so, most of the Quick as a Flash radio broadcasts from 1947 do not exist in recorded form. For fans of Bela Lugosi who would like to know what the mystery was about, the mystery has been solved. Thanks to expensive airfare to fly out to the Midwest, and cheap copy fees, and Mike Klaus who allowed me access to his script collection, enclosed is a copy of that script for your amusement.

I know superimposing a logo on some of the script pages is silly, and doesn't prevent people from printing copies on their printer. They are merely there to emphasize that I spent hundreds of dollars on airfare and hotel costs to visit the archive in the Midwest where I was able to go and make a copy. Please be considerate -- if you want to keep a copy for yourself, feel free to do so. But if it gets copied and pasted on another web-site without permission and steal credit, my promise in an earlier posting will still go into effect and I will remove the entire blog off the web permanently and cease offering weekly goodies and keep all future treasures locked away in my filing cabinets. This is primarily aimed towards the one or two whackos who have been recently plucking materials, images, text and archival documents and posting them on their site and then claiming they did the legwork and research. Stealing credit is cruel and inappropriate. 
For everyone else, enjoy the script excerpt and continue to enjoy future postings.

For years a recording of the March 16, 1947 broadcast has been incorrectly dated March 17, 1947, March 23, 1947, March 29, 1947 and February 14, 1948. Scripts have been consulted to verify the accurate broadcast date. (For anyone who wants to debate, allow me to apply some common sense that will save us both debate. There was never a Quick As A Flash broadcast on the incorrect dates).

July 16, 1944 to June 3, 1945
Helbros Mutual Sun. 6 to 6:30 p.m. Weekly
September 9, 1945 to June 2, 1946 
Helbros Mutual Sun. 6 to 6:30 p.m. Weekly
(5:30 as of January 20, 1946)
September 8, 1946 to June 1, 1947 
Helbros Mutual Sun. 5:30 to 6 p.m. Weekly
September 7, 1947 to May 30, 1948 
Helbros Mutual Sun. 5:30 to 6 p.m. Weekly
September 5, 1948 to May 29, 1949 
Helbros Mutual Sun. 5:30 to 6 p.m. Weekly
September 24, 1949 to December 17, 1949 
Helbros Mutual Sun. 7:30 to 7:55 p.m. Weekly
December 12, 1949 to June 9, 1950 
Quaker ABC 11:30 a.m. to 12 M-W-F
May 30, 1950 to August 4, 1950 
Toni ABC 15 minutes Weekdays, five-a-week
September 19, 1950 to June 29, 1951 
Block Drug ABC 11:30 to 12 noon Weekdays, five-a-week

Various sections of this article are excerpts from the book, The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954 by Martin Grams.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this fascinating find (and of course going to all the expense of flying out to the Midwest. - Andi Brooks

Mister Bill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hazy said...

It's really interesting that you accost people for stealing your scans when you don't credit the institution that you got the copies you scanned from. I'm pretty sure I know what institution that is, and I know they like to be credited when people use their materials. Citation is pretty standard among academics, so if you're using these materials in an informative way, you really should be citing it as well.

Martin Grams said...

All of the photos I use on my blogs are scanned from glossies and original materials I have (and still have) here at my house. If not, I credit the person or institution that provided the photo, such as Terry Salomonson in the above blog post. Mike has all the QUICK AS A FLASH radio scripts filed in banker boxes and was kind enough to let me go through his collection and scan scripts. Terry was with me when we were in St. Louis, and can verify. And I did credit Mike for the script (see above). Not sure where Hazy (not a person's first and last name) is getting the impression that I didn't credit the people who supplied photos and documents.

James Metcalfe said...

I doubt Hazy's comment disturbs you, Martin, but if it puts your mind at rest..... Hazy opened an anonymous account on the same day he posted his comment. 'Just looked it up. My guess is professional jealousy. Maybe he's the same person who already plucked the images off your blog and now has them on their site. And they are claiming academic credit. Oddly, they did a poor job trying to cover over your watermark so your name still appears on the images on their site. lol. I for one am appreciative that you took the time and expense to gather these materials and make them available for people like me who enjoy reading them. Keep up the good work!

Hazy said...

Just to clarify, I am familiar with an archive in the Midwest that has this script in a collection of Gene Wang's papers and I assumed (wrongly, as it turns out) that you had copied the Lugosi script from that archive without attribution.

I know this particular archive has quite a bit of material that is treated this way, so when I thought I saw another instance of the archives material not being cited, I got a bit snippy.

Since this doesn't seem to be the case, please accept my apology and allow me to wipe the figurative egg off of my face.

James Metcalfe said...

What puzzled me is why Hazy chose to open an anonymous account just to make the initial posting to criticize rather than ask. Everyone remember the Triple A rule: Ask before you assume and accuse. I'd still like to know who Hazy really is and why.

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