How often do you get screen legends Edward G. Robinson and Marlene Dietrich on the same stage at all, never mind aboard old-time radio’s splashy last-ditch bid to revive its once-venerable variety style?
Tonight on Tallulah Bankhead’s glamour fest, Robinson features in a playlet drawn from Cornell Woolrich’s “After Dinner Story,” playing Harold Hodecker, a man whose son, daughter-in-law, and unborn grandchild were killed in an elevator crash . . . the survivors of which are now gathered with Hodecker at dinner, where he reveals he’s going to name the actual murderer—whom he’ll identify by way of a rather novel if deadly act—despite official rulings of suicide.
The Woolrich story is no stranger to radio—it’s been done a little more elaborately on Suspense (in its radio original and on the show’s early television version)—but Robinson’s performance here is chilling even in an abbreviated script, even if you accept that he was far more than his classic gangland screen persona.
And Dietrich and hostess Bankhead swap genteel barbs with typical aplomb, before Deitrich sings “Falling in Love Again.”
Other highlights: Bankhead and Fred Allen muse about conversations with oneself, Allen’s withdrawal from regular series radio, his (alleged) travails with unemployment, and a plan to return to radio as a sponsor selling nothing. (Oh! Just like your old program!—Portland Hoffa.) Which could be taken as a zap toward the state of radio this year, considering the continuing exodus of advertising dollars toward television.
And Phil Baker—retired from regular series radio since his only bid at quiz show hosting, following his canning from longtime hit Take It or Leave It, tanked in 1948—engages Bankhead in a musing on how to convert the show to television, which amuses her only somewhat, before he straps his accordion on for one more round, considering his early fame as the accordion-playing partner of comedian Ben Bernie.
Additional cast: Danny Thomas, Fran Warren. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Music: Meredith Willson, the Big Show Orchestra and Chorus. Director: Dee Engelbach. Writers: Goodman Ace, Selma Diamond, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson.
Fibber McGee & Molly: The Hundred Dollar Bill (NBC, 1941)—The McGees (Jim and Marian Jordan) draw a hundred for current expenses and get it in a single bill, enrapturing the Squire of 79 Wistful Vista, unnerving his spouse just a little, and amusing everyone else when he loses a quarter, has no other small change, and can’t get change for the hundred. Teeny: Marian Jordan. Parking Garage Attendant: Gale Gordon. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. The Old-Timer/Boomer: Bill Thompson. Gildersleeve: Harold Peary. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writer: Don Quinn.
Lum & Abner: Winifred Elopes with Doctor (Blue Network, 1943)—The final day of the breach-of-promise could cost Cedric (Chester Lauck, who also plays Lum and Grandpappy) quite a bundle for not marrying Winifred (possibly Lurene Tuttle), until . . . Abner/Squire: Norris Goff. Announcer: Lou Crosby. Music: Possibly Elsie Mae Emerson. Writers: Chester Lauck, Norris Goff, Roz Rogers, Betty Boyle.
Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Joins a Posse (NBC, 1947)—The Superman of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) is thrilled over the new radio, until he hears an item suggesting four murderers might be in town and anticipates having to join a posse to catch them. Molly/Teeny: Marian Jordan. La Trivia: Gale Gordon. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.
The Whistler: The Thin Line (CBS, 1946)—It’s drawn between infatuation and hate, which Mark Mailer (Joseph Kearns) learns the hard way, after his wealthy wife’s aide (Cathy Lewis)—who lures him into romance—lures his wife to the desert planning her murder, so she can marry him for her employer’s fortune . . . at least until he discovers the truth of the plot after she seems to hold him off. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Director: George W. Allen. Writer: Buckley Angell.
Broadway is My Beat: The Mary Murdock Murder Case (CBS; AFRTS Rebroadcast, 1950)—A woman comes to Clover (Larry Thor) for help but dies of delayed poisoning as he gives her a cup of water—and she turns out to be the wife of a noted mobster, sending Clover on a trek including a throwback speakeasy in a search for her husband . . . who turns up dead when Clover does find him. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Bill Anders. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.
Richard Diamond, Private Detective: The Butcher Protection Racket (NBC, 1950)—Diamond’s (Dick Powell) favourite butcher asks him to help himself and his fellow independent butchers defeat a protection racket preying on them violently, led by two hoods who seem to have a history with a larger racket boss. Addition cast: Lester Piler, Paul Frees, David Ellis. Otis: Wilms Herbert. Levinson: Ed Begley. Helen: Ed Begley. Announcer: Eddie King. Music: Frank Worth. Writer/director: Blake Edwards.
Let George Do It: School of Sharks (Mutual-Don Lee, 1952)—Mary Hagerty (Virginia Eiler) wants Valentine (Bob Bailey) to prove her father was driven to suicide after discovering his deep involvement with loan sharks. Riley: Wally Maher. Brooksie: Virginia Gregg. Lt. Johnson: Ken Christy. Strike: Cliff Barnett. Pagano: Joe Vitale. Wells: Stephen Chase. Guard: James Nusser. Announcer: John Hiestand. Music: Eddie Dunstedter. Director: Don Clark. Writers: David Victor, Jackson Gillis.
Suspense: The Case Against Loo Doc (CBS, 1952)—Jeff Chandler (Our Miss Brooks) has something of a tour-de-force as an investigator torn between probing a notorious San Francisco Chinatown tong war and learning the true nature of his close friend Loo Doc (William Conrad), a silk merchant suspected to be the mastermind of one of the most brutal of the warring tongs. Additional cast: Joseph Kearns, Lillian Byeth, Sam Edwards, Herb Butterfield, Byron Kane, Jack Kruschen. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Lucien Morowick, Lud Gluskin. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writer: Richard George Fettucine.
Suspense: Breakthrough (CBS; AFRTS Rebroadcast, 1962)—An elder woman (Adelaide Klein) reluctantly leaves her home at the urging of her lone surviving son (Philip Sterling), who refuses to let her remain where she lived when her husband and two other sons were killed opposing East Germany’s Communist regime . . . but first they must persuade a recalcitrant border guard (Bob Dryden) to allow them to join her daughter-in-law and granddaughter in West Berlin. Riveting, strangely understated Cold War drama. Additional cast: Danny Ocko, Alan Manson, Luis van Rooten, Guy West, Doug Parkhurst, Sam Ratkin. Announcer: George Walsh. Music: Ethel Huber. Director: Bruno Zirato, Jr. Writer: William N. Robson.