Friday, February 20, 2015

Sam Spade's "Lost" Radio Capers

When Dashiell Hammett’s The Adventures of Sam Spade made its debut over ABC in August of 1946, personable Howard Duff, a comparative unknown in Hollywood circles, was assigned the title role. The selection of young Duff for the hard-hitting detective was perfect casting, his success was immediate, and Hollywood began predicting important things to come for this new personality. Just one year after his “Sam Spade” debut, Howard Duff found himself under personal contract to Mark Hellinger, movie producer. His first screen role as “Soldier” in Hellinger’s production of Brute Force, had rated him star material from critics throughout the country. He received on-screen credit as “radio’s Sam Spade.” Even when Duff was given offers for movie roles, he never gave up the radio gig, often making long trips to multiple studios so he could juggle both acting forms.
The enormous success of the Sam Spade radio program spawned a comic strip series, magazine articles and radio crossovers, and at one time Universal Studios even considered the possibility of making a Sam Spade movie with Duff in the lead. All this and much more because of a single radio program, based on a fictional detective glamorized in one novel, three short stories, and three films, including the impressive 1941 motion picture, The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell Hammett, the creator of the fictional private eye, received royalty checks for the use of his character, but had no direct involvement with the series except the lending of his name in the opening and closing credits.
About the time the radio program gained popularity, Hammett joined the New York Civil Rights Congress, a leftist organization that was considered by some to be a Communist front. When four Communists related to the organization were arrested, Hammett raised money for their bail bond. When the accused fled, he was subpoenaed about their whereabouts, and investigated by Congress. Although Hammett testified to his own activities, he refused to divulge the identities of known American Communists, resulting in a five-month imprisonment sentence for contempt of court, and he was promptly blacklisted.
In June of 1951, Howard Duff’s name appeared in the Anti-Communist publication known as Red Channels, and both the networks and the sponsor attempted to evade the program altogether, resulting in Steve Dunne taking over the lead role, and soon after, the radio program’s cancellation. Duff was listed in the book as a result of "guilt by association," as author Jim Cox best describes it. Duff eventually cleared his name by proving he was simply a hired cast member and was not a personal friend of Dashiell Hammett. But the damage was already done and he was replaced.

Before the series was cancelled, a total of 245 episodes were broadcast. According to which reference guide you prefer, between 60 and 70 episodes are presently available from collectors across the country. The reason for this is simple: the networks never made it a policy to record the broadcasts. It was very expensive to do so, and no one at the broadcasting studios had any notion that a commercial value could be placed on the recordings. The few that survive today are courtesy of collectors who sought out the wire recordings and transcription discs, and took the time to transfer the sound to a medium such as compact discs and audio cassettes. All that remains now of the lost episodes are the scripts.

After reading all 200 plus radio scripts, I was surprised to discover that the earliest episodes of the series was raw and edgy. Sam Spade abused a child, slept with a married woman, shot a criminal in the back as she was leaving and stole money out of a dead man's wallet. No wonder the series was highly regarded by critics and faithful listeners. There were other episodes in the series that should be noted. “Inside Story of Kid Spade” (broadcast February 16, 1947) reveals Sam’s past as a prizefighter before going into the private detective business. The plot was actually a script rewrite of the July 20, 1944 broadcast of Suspense, also produced and directed by William Spier, entitled “Of Maestro and Man.” Richard Conte played the lead role of the boxer, with Peter Lorre as The Maestro. A love interest was added to the Sam Spade version, offering radio listeners the one and only time Spade ever considered settling down with a woman by marriage. A character in this episode, “Pretty Boy Gluskin,” was a tip of the hat (or a pull of the leg) to Lud Gluskin, the show’s musical director. This inside joke was repeated often throughout the series, and this script reveals one such example.
“The Judas Caper” (broadcast April 11, 1948) reveals another side of Sam, in which he purposely hides a woman - possibly a murderess - in his apartment solely for the affections of a woman. Keeping a woman in his apartment for said reasons was implied in Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1929), but this was the only time on the radio program that Sam restaged this scene.

One or two episodes of The Adventures of Sam Spade continue to be found from time to time but it seems unlikely that unless a huge cache is discovered in the coming decade, more than half of the radio episodes will remain "lost."

Randomly selected for your amusement are a handful of "lost" episodes with broadcast dates, script titles and plot summaries. Since these episodes do not exist in recorded form, I see no reason why I shouldn't reveal the solutions to the capers, or what other people refer to as "spoilers." Enjoy!

Broadcast July 12, 1946
Plot: Shortly after newspaper report the murder and robbery of Bernard F. Gilmore, Sam finds himself hired by Gilmore's business partner, Emil Tonescu, to find the Guiana Sovereign that was stolen from Gilmore. The Sovereign has sentimental value, according to Tonescu. Sam digs into the details of the case, meeting enough suspects to fill a telephone directory, only to discover that Gilmore is alive and well, in hiding. He survived the gun shot and his assailant was Cara Kenbrook, a former business partner in Trinidad. Before Sam learns of Cara's involvement, Tonescu is murdered by Gilmore, and Sam uncovers all the motives -- including a case of blackmail. With help from Gilmore's wife, Line, Sam overtakes Gilmore and explains the entire mystery to Effie while he dictates his report.

Broadcast July 19, 1946
Plot: Miriam Farewell asks Sam to visit her father-in-law, the great, wealthy Carter P. farewell, whose life has been threatened in a poison pen letter. After one failed murder attempt, she fears the culprit will try again. The lead suspect is Farwell's neighbor, Captain Sherry, an Englishman, drummed out of the Army years before as a result of Mr. Farewell's former shady business ventures with the military. When the old man is found murderer, the police are unable to pin the crime on Captain Sherry. After Sherry is acquitted of the crime, due to lack of evidence, Sam and Miriam visit the hotel where Sherry is staying only to find his dead body (the result of a bullet to the brain) and Dolph, Miriam's husband, with a gun in his hand. While Sam phones Lt. Dundy, Dolph jumps out the window, taking his own life. Lt. Dundy arrives and Sam explains how Dolph didn't jump out the window -- evidence suggests he was pushed out by Miriam when Sam was momentarily out of the room. She planned the death of her father-in-law so she could collect an early inheritance. She attempted to cover her tracks with a second muder.

Trivia, etc. Sam romantically kisses Miriam, a married woman. This would not be the first time he did that on the radio program, and in a later episode actually sleeps with a married woman! This episode was adapted from the non-Sam Spade short story, The Farewell Murder, by Dashiell Hammett, originally published in the February 1930 issue of Black Mask. This script would later be dramatized again on the series on November 10, 1946.

Episode #18  "THE MIDWAY CAPER"
Broadcast October 27, 1946
Plot: Sally Hart arrives in Spade's office in hopes of hiring him to exchange envelopes with an acquaintance known as Sandy Fiske. Sam takes the job but when he arrives at the hotel, he finds Fiske lying on the floor... dead. The room is locked from the inside and Sam figures that the killer never had time to leave the room. He later meets Major Wales, a midget, who tells Sam that Sandy is his wife. Sam follows a lead to the Monster Tent Show, where he meets Sally Hart, whose real name turns out to be Della Wales. From Della, Sam discovers the envelope contained a news clipping about a girl, murdered in a locked room, and a telegram dated a few days before the clipping. The real Sally Hart was the murdered girl. The cover-up involved the ownership of the traveling side show carnival. The true killer reveals his hand when he is foole dby the fake wire and Della, using the jealous husband as the unwitting weapon of choice, planned to murder his first wife.
Broadcast December 8, 1946
Plot: Miss Lavinia Mink of Turk Street hires Sam to find Lucy Mink, who disappeared and has apparently vanished -- leaving no trace of her whereabouts. As Sam investigates each member of the family, he soon realizes that everyone in the house is dysfunctional. Shortly after Sam's arrival, Luther, the manservant, is found murdered. The private eye eventually solves the mystery when he learns that the pet parrot in the family talks too much. When Luther learned the truth from the bird, the quack, Dr. Linklater, killed him before Luther could give the parrot to Sam as proof. The guilty party was, obviously, the doctor who was poisoning the two daughters to cover up a fifty-year-old family secret.

Trivia, etc. This episode was loosely adapted from the Dashiell Hammett short story, The House on Turk Street, originally published in the April 15, 1924 issue of Black Mask. In the original story, each character was constantly using some other character to neutralize or destroy someone else. Each character had a different personality and thus provided the motif for this radio version.

Broadcast March 30, 1947
Plot: Florence Pearl wants Sam Spade to break up the association between her daughter, Rose, and a young man named Joseph Naples. Naples is a shady character who hangs out where Rose works, the Barbary Burlesque, along with English Eddie, an international jewel thief. Sam meets Naples, who attempts to pay the detective off to avoid Pearl's request. Sam rejects the offer and visits Rose in her dressing room to heear her side of the story. Only Rose is found dead shortly after their conversation. Checking the champagne bottle in the ice bucket, Sam discovers that the container was filled with dry ice. In the over-heated, badly-ventilated dressing room, the ice melted... releasing carbon dioxide. Rose died painlessly from asphyxia. The motive for the murder? Rose's costume contained three million dollars of jewels sewn on it. Spade tricks Eddie, the mastermind behind the caper, into confessing. Ricardo, the only man Rose treated like a decent person, takes the law into his own hands by shooting Eddie dead. Spade allows Ricardo to return to his rooming house for the night and await the police who will arive soon... giving Ricardo an obvious manner of escape. In Spade's report to Mrs. Pearl, he tells her to turn over the costume to the police since there may be a reward on some of the pearls.

Episode #46  "YULE LOG CAPER"
Broadcast May 11, 1947
Plot: Sam is hired by Emil Tauchnitz of the Tauchnitz Galleries, to find the artist of a popular painting on exhibit titled, "Yule Log." After learning that the artist hasn't yet authorized the sale on the oil canvas and that customers are offering as much as $50,000, Sam agrees to seek out the artist. Sam locates Mervyn Trelease, the artist, only to find the man dead in his apartment (kind of getting a bit monotonous, isn't it?). A piece of polished driftwood, simialr to that depicting the painting, was jabbed into Mervyn's chest. Sam learns that the artist was hinting at the ownership of a ship's log belonging to the S.S. Yule, which sank on July 13, 1946, the same date depicted on the painting. The ship had a million dollar cargo of chemicals and if the log were to be recovered, the insurance money would not be claimed. Thus the motive for a number of murders and the purpose of the painting hanging in the museum.

Trivia, etc. That is the proper script title. The word "The" was not on the script title or the caper as Sam dictated it to Effie.

Broadcast June 8, 1947
Plot: Marsha Hopkins is worried about her sister, Constance Pendleton, who has become involved with a ne'er do well, a Bulgarian named Major Andreyev Vrodnik, whom she believes is interested in her sister's money and is capable of murdering her shortly after the wedding. This modern-day bluebeard has a track record for killing his other wives across Europe, but police were stuck ruling them "accidents." Constance is blind with love so Marsha hires Sam Spade to uncover the truth about the Major, including his background, and face Constance with the facts and hopefully prevent the marriage. Sam investigates by calling on the Bulgarian consulate, finds himself on the S.S. Lurene bound for Calcutta, goes through an ordeal with the Captain and his crew, and solves the mystery involving Norman Gorman, a professional hotel thief, and his client, Marsha, stuffed inside a trunk. Sam helps the authorities take the Major into custody and says goodbye to the temping and aluring Marsha before he gets too foolish and wakes up in a trunk himself.

Trivia, etc. The name of the ship, S.S. Lurene, was a tip-of-the-hat to Lurene Tuttle, who played the role fo Effie in the radio series.

Episode #57  "THE GOLD RUSH CAPER"
Broadcast July 27, 1947
Plot: Sam takes the train to Personville, where a recent gold rush has caused the dusty ghost town to become an active boom town. Elihu Person hires Sam to keep an eye on shipments of gold bars. When Sam meets up with an old friend, Max Thayler, he discovers something fishy is indeed happening in town. The obvious tell-tale signs of an active mine are not available and how the gold is being shipped out of the mine is a mystery even to the townfolk who have endured a recent rash of robberies -- gold chains, gold teeth, etc. After Dinah is shot for talking too much, Sam figures out how Mr. MacSwain, Person's employee, has been paying thieves and robbers for anything gold in town and uses a dead mine as a cover for housing the equipment used to melt them down into gold bars for sale to the U.S. Government. His plan would have succeeded if it was not for Sam's interference, and the recent robbiers of his gold bar shipments from the very thieves whom he paid. Elihu goes bankrupt while MacSwain goes to jail.

Trivia, etc. This episode was a sequel to the broadcast of April 6, 1947, entitled "The Poisonville Caper," which featured the same characters such as Dinah, Whisper, and Elihu Person.


Jacob said...

If anybody out there is hoarding any of these shows, please put them on so the rest of us can download them and listen to them!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, any of you folks who might have any of these shows, please take the transcriptions you paid $$$ for and post them for free so they can be copied and reposted as low-grade, crappy-sounding, 32 kbps downloads by every free old radio site on the internet.

If it makes me a hoarder to sit on the 1000+ transcriptions I've paid hard-earned money for and put in a lot of time and effort to acquire, clean and transfer, and to refuse to post them for nothing to a bunch of moochers who expect to get everything for free, then I'm more than proud to be a hoarder.

Dick Yorke said...

Jacob, it is a known fact no one is really 'hoarding.' What very few recordings are being withheld from general circulation are leaked into collector circles through buyers' groups, serious traders and collectors, and Radio Spirits who releases box sets of 'lost' shows every month. OTR clubs like S.P.E.R.D.V.A.C. release about 30 new 'lost' shows a month. Rather than criticize others, why not pay for an annual membership to radio clubs, usually costing $20 a year. Your financial support recovers the costs involved to have 'lost' shows transferred from the original discs. Virtually thousands of shows not on at your disposal if you are supportive instead of critical.

And thank you, Martin Grams, for providing us with plot summaries for 'lost' episodes. Keep up the good work.

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