Friday, May 18, 2012

Tom Collins, Chandu The Magician

Chandu, the Magician
"Endowed with supernatural powers, San Francisco covert agent Frank Chandler, armed with little more than a crystal ball, subdued global forces of evil. In the Far East he had mastered the mysterious secrets of a Hindu yogi. Dubbed 'Chandu,' he roamed the world in search of despots dedicated to enslaving the universe if left to their own devices. Invariably, nearly every juvenile thriller's hero had a single recurring nemesis; in Chandler's case it was the villainous Egyptian Roxor, whose devious mind frequently matched wits with the American mystic who was enhanced with abstruse capabilities."
            -- Jim Cox, Radio Crime Fighters, McFarland Publishing, 2002

Photo of Chandu cast: Irene Tedrow, Lee Millar, Tom Collins and Joy Terry. The photo caption made mention that "The Search for Robert Regent" was the first adventure aired when the series returned to the airwaves on June 28, 1948. The photographs of Chandu throughout this write-up were taken at the home of Irene Tedrow Kent, 1948.

Chandu, the Magician
The American agent with supernatural powers premiered on radio on August 4, 1931, over KHJ in Los Angeles. Within months the series was heard over WOR in New York and soon after, Chicago. Gayne Whitman was the first to play the role. The series was sponsored by White King Soap on the West Coast (circa October 1932) and Beech Nut on the East Coast. White King Soap, planning to syndicate the series with soap commercials in areas of the country that would not accept a direct hook-up, forked up the money to have the series transcribed and this is why we have about 80 or so episodes from the 1932-36 run. Howard Hoffman supposedly took over the title role in 1935 and remained in the role until the series went off the air in 1936.

Chandu, the Magician
The radio thriller had a comeback in June of 1948, this time with Tom Collins in the lead. While a supporting actor on numerous radio programs including The Cavalcade of America, The Lux Radio Theatre, The Adventures of Ellery Queen and The Whistler (among others), Tom Collins is best known today to radio fans as Chandu, the Magician. The supporting actor played the role sufficiently and proved he could carry the lead of his own program. White King Soap was the sponsor of the revival series, supposedly re-writes and revised versions of prior plot lines from the 1932-36 series, along with originals. Almost every episode of the revival series exists on transcription disc, again courtesy of the deep pockets of the sponsor. (During his tenure on Chandu, Tom Collins played the title role of The Adventures of Frank Race in a syndicated series produced by the Bruce Eells and Associates/Broadcasters Program Syndicate in 1949.)

Cast of radio's One Man's Family

Besides Chandu, Tom Collins is also known for his role as Nicholas Lacey on Carlton E. Morse's One Man's Family, a radio program that still remains popular to this day. His appearance as Nick is among the most repeated stories in the history of radio lore. The character had been written out of the series and thought to have perished in Europe, and when Morse decided it was time to bring him back, it was done with dramatic flair. Walter Paterson, the actor who played the role, died in 1942 from an overdose of carbon monoxide in his own car. For a tragic reason, Carlton E. Morse, the writer, decided best to write the character out of the scripts. But a few years later, a new character had to be found for the part before Claudia's English husband could reappear. Auditions were held over a period of four weeks. At the end of that time, and after reading four times with members of the One Man's Family cast, Tom Collins was selected.

Director Cyril Armbrister and Princess Nadji (Veola Vonn).

Very little is known about Tom Collins. This is why I was pleased to receive an e-mail recently from his daughter, Monica, asking if I could be a depository for photographs, newspaper clippings, magazine articles and other materials related to her father's radio career. "I'm 71 and neither of my siblings are interested in these things and I'd love to know they were in a place where they might be appreciated," she explained. Naturally, I accepted her gifts with open arms. And to date, every clipping, article and photograph has been scanned in both tif and jpg format for preservation. (I plan to hand the materials to a friend who has been working on a project that relates to Tom Collins.... soon as I can get his contact info.) "I saw lots of his radio shows and loved the way the sound effects were created," Monica told me.

Tom Collins advertisement with statistics.

Chandu, the Magician
Tom Collins was the product of the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman School of the Theater in Chicago. He studied everything but directing, even built and painted scenery and, on occasion, shifted it. Radio, without its numerous retakes, appealed more to the actor who had broadcast in Chicago, his first radio show having been the serial, Kitty Keane, Inc. (which premiered in September of 1937). In an interview with a reporter for the Hollywood Citizen-News, Collins enjoyed playing the role of Raffles in the series of the same name written by Dwight Hauser. Cathy Lewis was one of the supporting players, Milton Charles was the organist ad J. Donald Wilson (the same man responsible for creating The Whistler radio program and later became an ABC executive) was the director. The program ran a total of 26 weeks and could have been sold as a five-times-a-week show, but the stage and motion-picture rights were held by different parties (Samuel Goldwyn to name one), who could not get together on terms both parties agreed, so the deal fell through.

Cast of One Man's Family

As a fan of The Cavalcade of America, Collins is best associated as the announcer for the broadcasts that originated from Hollywood. It was a bit out of the ordinary, the way Collins became an announcer on the program. The part he was given in an Air Corps drama proved to be so much bigger than that of the star engaged for the show, and was asked if he would mind giving it up. He said he wouldn't and then, to his surprise, he was offered the job of announcer by Jack Zoller, the producer. Collins accepted knowing an announcer job is guaranteed income and steady work rather than waiting for the call to playing a supporting role.

One Man's Family or I Love A Mystery?
Tom accepted roles for LP records created for children such as Jack and the Beanstalk with Harold Peary and the Alice Duer Miller version of Cinderella as played by Edna Best, Verna Felton and Paula Winslow. If you have a copy of any of these children records (which is billed on the front covers with "The Great Gildersleeve"), check them out and hear Tom Collins playing supporting roles.

I recently read on a web-site that, "Chandu in the 30 minute format did not work and Chandu seems more like a gumshoe than a mystic." That second part is an opinion (and a fair one) but the first half should not be accepted as a fact. The half-hour series was indeed a success, else it wouldn't have run as long as it did. Compared to the fifteen-minute serial from the 1930s, the later version is a bland imitation of radio detectives that were commonly heard on the airwaves at the time.

Cast of One Man's Family

Included in this blog post, for your amusement, are snapshots and photos of Tom Collins and the cast of One Man's Family and Chandu, the Magician. The script covers below are of amusement for many. It seemed Tom Collins arranged for his scripts (or in the one case of Victor Rodman's script) to be autographed by the celebrities in the studio, to be made out to his young niece, Sally Jo. She passed away in 2011 and her husband gave the scripts to Monica, who passed them on to me to share with you.


Craig said...

Great story about connecting with his daughter, MG.

Keeping this history alive - just like CATon aims to do!


Ken said...

Terrific blog post,as usual! My Dad and I love the '48-'49 Chandu serial. It's always interesting to compare actor's faces to voices. Irene Tedrow's face hardly changed at all over the years. You are the perfect "repository" for these generously donated items!

Tamara Hulme said...

I listen to Chandu on the way to work every morning. To hear that most of the family does not care about their relative's accomplishments is heart breaking. It is good to know that someone took the time to preserve everything the family had to offer. Give them a good home!

Ed Hulse said...

Just catching up with your blog, Martin, and saw this fascinating post. You and your readers might be interested to learn that I'm doing a comprehensive article on Chandu (one of my favorite characters) in both his radio and film incarnations for the upcoming tenth anniversary issue of BLOOD 'N' THUNDER. I've long believed that the radio series was inspired by the occult-tinged adventure novels of Talbot Mundy, one of them in particular. I'll be laying out my case in the article by drawing comparisons. Also, in addition to photos from the film versions, I'll be running several rare 1932 publicity photos of Gayne Whitman in character, performing scenes from some of the episodes.

robert said...

Thanks for the Tom Collins info. I've just discovered the 1948 "Chandu" and enjoyed it quite a bit. I marvel at Collins' ability to deliver almost any phrase with an air of suspicion and foreboding.

Anonymous said...

Tom Collins was also a contract player for a time with MGM Studios. He must have learned a great deal while there working with such greats as Lionel Barrymore and many, many other of the enormous roster of Stars at MGM, who boast the Studio had more Stars than there are in the Heavens.

Post a Comment