A crime against a crime-solver: Old-time radio listening, 19 December

Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209: Jack Frost (NBC, 1949)

Shown here in later days as a television character actress, Natalie Masters made a sultry but sober Candy Matson . . . (Photo: CBS.)

Old-time radio’s first female sleuth to feature in a series of her own has everything it takes to become a hit, except that its network inexplicably does enough in its own power to thwart it.

Natalie Masters is hardly an old-time radio stranger; with her husband, Monty, she has already appeared in a comedy, Mad Masters, whose wounding flaw may well have been a weak enough array of supporting characters undermining the promising, engaging characters the Masters fashioned themselves to be.

Yet it may have taken the former Natalie Park’s mother to persuade her son-in-law to cast her as Candy Matson . . . after Monty Masters agreed it’s a smart idea to change his original outline to make for a female protagonist. As a no-nonsense but deceptively empathetic investigator, Candy—abetted by eccentric photographer Rembrandt Watson (Jack Thomas) and police lieutenant (and periodic love interest) Raymond Mallard (Henry Leff)—specialises in clever but not overboiled wit and an ability to use her smoky look and charm to solve crimes ranging from the elaborate to the mundane.

Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209 does wear its Dragnet influence on its sleeve to a small extent, mostly by some of the support character portrayals, though this show doesn’t move quite as sluggishly as Dragnet sometimes does. Masters may have her flaws (she becomes somewhat notorious inside the industry for on-air mistakes, though these don’t necessarily compromise her husband’s distinctive scripts), but the real problem with the show just might be its network.

As The Digital Deli Too will recall in due course, it isn’t just the show’s San Francisco setting, scenery, and inside references—then unusual for broadcast series, but soon enough to become no big deal in its own right—that seal Candy‘s fate:

As NBC did with all of its foster children‘—its programs in search of a sponsor—it moved Candy Matson hither, thither and yon for its entire run. Even if a sponsor had expressed an interest in the program it’d have been hard pressed to even find Candy Matson from week to week to listen to it in the first place. NBC’s favorite ploy of the era was to air a program a day ahead—and hours ahead—of its scheduled air date, then apologize the following day to it’s growing body of avid Candy Matson fans that—oops!—there would be nothing to hear that night ‘cuz we decided to air it last night, instead.’Absolutely ruthless programming practices, emphasizing sponsors and revenue over listening audiences—as listeners of NBC had come to expect in the mid to late 1940s.

Perhaps it will prove a miracle that the show will survive two complete seasons. Very few episode recordings will survive the network radio era. Monty Masters will find himself in a slow career decline, though old friends such as Jack Webb, Raymond Burr, and others along Hollywood’s Radio Row will help keep him employed as they move to television, despite his ultimately losing battle with the bottle. He will die in 1969 at 57, though some will say he looked two decades older.

Natalie Masters, conversely, will enjoy a post-Candy career as a character actress in radio and, then, television, featuring most prominently in Betty White’s short-lived but fondly remembered A Date with the Angels, then making guest appearances on such series as Dragnet, My Three Sons, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Family Affair (she guests in the unforgettable episode in which little Buffy’s beloved doll, Mrs. Beasley, suffers a broken arm and breaks the kid’s heart), Gunsmoke, Adam-12, Hart to Hart, Alice, and Blacke’s Magic, until her death in 1986.

Tonight: Snobbish old friend (Helen Klieb) now working as a classy department store advertiser bumps into Candy (Natalie Masters) at the store and asks her to find a missing Santa’s helper. If you could point to any episode as “typical” of this series, this one would be a prime candidate among the very few survivors.

Burke: Lou Tobin. Liggett: John Grobert. Watson: Jack Thomas. Mallard: Henry Leff. Boy: Topper Masters. (You guessed it: Natalie Masters’ real-life son.) Announcer: Dudley Manlove. Music: Eloise Rogan. Writer/director: Monte Masters.

 

FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .

Comedy

The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: Little Red Riding Hood (NBC, 1937)—Aside from writing Santa to demand the whereabouts of the sled he asked as a boy, and arguing with Adolphe Menjou over whose bags under whose eyes are bigger, Jack (Benny)—who thinks everyone should be a kid for Christmas—passes out gifts to the cast (Don Wilson, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker), whom he only thinks forgot to give him a gift, before the cast contorts a Christmas story out of the famous fairy tale. Announcer: Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: Al Boasberg, Ed Beloin, Bill Morrow.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Snoops for Presents in the Closet (NBC, 1944)Like that’s a big surprise . . . as Fibber (Jim Jordan) is reminded rather rudely, when he sees a don’t-even-think-about-it note from Molly (Marian Jordan) before the usual clutter comes clattering down on him. Alice Darling: Shirley Mitchell. Doc Gamble: Arthur Q. Bryan. Beulah: Marlin Hurt. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men, and special treat Marian Jordan (as Teeny) singing the Ken Darby (of the King’s Men) arrangement of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Writer: Don Quinn.

Maxwell House Coffee Time with Burns & Allen: Gracie’s Looking For a Job (NBC, 1946)—George (Burns) has good reason to be shattered when Gracie (Allen) gets a job in a department store’s glassware department for a little extra Christmas money. Store manager: Gale Gordon. The Happy Postman: Mel Blanc. Additional cast: Sandra Gould, Jim Backus. Announcer: Bill Goodwin. Music: Meredith Willson and His Orchestra. Writers: Paul Henning, George Burns.

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Jack Benny as Santa (NBC, 1948)—Benny proves his loyalty to his randy on-air bandleader in a memorable way on this Christmas classic—doing the surprising and pleasing job of playing Santa on Christmas Eve, where the Harris children (Jeannine Roos, Anne Whitfield) want to stay up to see Santa and not Daddy in costume, not even if Daddy can sing a charming re-arrangement of “Jingle Bells” with a sweet reference to Mommy. It’s a masterpiece of understatement, both Benny’s and his protegees. Willie: Robert North. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Julius: Walter Tetley. Announcer: Bill Forman. Music: Walter Scharf, Phil Harris Orchestra. Director: Paul Phillips. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber the Postman (NBC, 1950)—McGee (Jim Jordan) is one of several extra men hired at the post office to handle the Christmas mail crunch, delivering packages and trying not to make a disaster out of it. Molly/Teeny: Marian Jordan. Postmaster: Ed Begley. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Olie: Richard LeGrand. The Old-Timer/Wimpole: Bill Thompson. La Trivia: Gale Gordon. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Wimpole is Ill and Molly Assists (NBC, 1954)—Wimpole (Bill Thompson, who also plays the Old-Timer) gets hit with a nasty cold after helping McGee (Jim Jordan) work the package mail routes in the snow, leaving Molly (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny) to volunteer to step in for him today. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Leonard L. Levinson.

 

Crime Drama

The Whistler: Death Demands a Payment (CBS, 1943)—An inmate serving life for murdering his wife and stepson plots an escape to retrieve the hidden $10,000 for which he killed them in the first place, while a couple whose car breaks down in a storm discovers the eccentric victims very much alive. Cast: Unidentified, but possibly including Lurene Tuttle. The Whistler: Joseph Kearns. Announcer: Bill Panell. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Writer/director: J. Donald Wilson. 

Box 13: The Sad Night (Mutual, 1948)—A child’s copy book dated from 1930 finds its way to Holliday (Alan Ladd), who learns the hard way that it’s going to help him find his way to a murder plot. Suzy: Sylvia Picker. Kling: Edmund McDonald. Additional cast: Lurene Tuttle, Alan Reed, Luis van Rooten, John Beal. Announcer: Vern Carstensen. Writer: Russell Hughes.

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