14 January: Just Whistler

Advertisement for The Whistler at the height of its West Coast popularity. (Photo: Signal Oil Corp.)

Advertisement for The Whistler at the height of its West Coast popularity. (Photo: Signal Oil Corp.)

The Whistler is unique among radio crime dramas for more than the often-underrated point that there was little if any actual violence in a typical episode. And, more than its equally unique second-person narration the title storyteller uses to tell it from the killer’s viewpoint.

This is also one of the earliest such shows to hand a listener the thought, as John Dunning would put it in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, that “this could happen to you,” the “everyday gone haywire . . . These were not mysteries: the identity of the killer was never in doubt, from the first hint that the deed must be done until the moment when the killer trapped himself.”

But when George Allen comes aboard as the show’s director in 1944, he makes one change that graduates The Whistler into a radio legend once and for all: he shifts the original epilogues—in which the Whistler summarises with a couple of lines and a sardonic laugh, not unlike The Shadow—into fully-played closing turnabouts. Dunning will analyse it far better:

The Whistler remained the great omniscient storyteller of the air, for the Shadow had long since become his own hero, and the Mysterious Traveler to come never packed quite the same punch. The voice was an unforgettable tenor, the message dripping with grim irony.

Allen also begins rotating the show’s Radio Row players according to what he thought the scripts require and they offer best within that need. And he brings aboard the perfect Whistler, Bill Forman, after first Gale Gordon and then Joseph Kearns take turns in the narrator’s chair.

The net result: From 1944 until the show’s finale in 1955, The Whistler will never quite be topped as radio’s seminal psychological crime drama, though several will try. And tonight you get three examples, from three different years, of just how high The Whistler set that particular bar, even with the periodic flaws to which any such show is prone now and then. 

Which is pretty damn good for a show that was never allowed to graduate from a West Coast radio phenomenon to a national presence in its original life.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT . . .
The Whistler: Hit and Run (CBS; AFRS Rebroadcast, 1946)

Mildred Hardwick (possibly Lurene Tuttle) has second thoughts about leaving her shiftless, boozing husband, Tommy; would-be next husband Hilary Gaines doubles back to drive her home; and, they’d rather risk a hit and run charge than allow their affair to be exposed, after they run him down unwittingly in a soup-thick Bay Area fog. Leaving Gaines to be blackmailed by an unscrupulous insurer who saw the accident and their disappearance.

Sometimes you think there’s boilerplate soapishness, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near the worst such instance.

Additional cast: Unidentified. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Sound: Berne Surrey. Director: George Allen. Writer: Unidentified. (Note: Some of the introduction and all the closing music and credits missing from this recording.)

 

The Whistler: The Silent Partner (CBS, 1948)

Cattle and dairy rancher Matt Robertson (Bill Bouchee) learns his partner Wilk Cain (David Ellis)—who lords over him that he, Cain, saved the ranch from dissipation and bankruptcy—is buying a major adjacent ranch, a deal with a troublesome impact on Robertson, Cain, and a parolee in the Robertson ranch’s employ . . . in whom Cain’s daughter has a romantic interest her father despises. It could have been just another horse opera transposed to crime drama, but it isn’t.

Additional cast: Unidentified. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Director: George Allen. Writers: Joel Malone, Harold Swanton.

 

The Whistler: The Little Things (CBS, 1951)

On a foggy Pacific Coast night, parolee Johnny Larson (Lawrence Dobkin)—who did a stretch in prison after a female accomplice’s double-cross, and has vowed never to let the small details go untended again—returns to his former gang, even if it means keeping a wary eye on their new moll, Laura (Gigi Pearson), who has him even more wary after she warns him of one catch in the gang’s forthcoming “foolproof” bank job.

Additional cast: Jack Moyles, Ed Max, Tony Odair. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Director: George Allen. Writer: James J. Cullen.

 

Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Great Gildersleeve: The Engagement Defence (comedy; NBC, 1945)
The Old Gold Comedy Theater: Nothing But the Truth (comedy; NBC, 1945)
Boston Blackie: Blackie and the Fur Thefts (crime drama; ABC, 1947)
The Great Gildersleeve: Encouraging Romance (comedy; NBC, 1948)
Suspense: Fall River Tragedy (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1952)

This entry was posted in classic radio, crime drama, old-time radio and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.