I use an electronic sleeping aid. Each night for the last five or so years I’ve fallen asleep with an earphone plugged into my iPod listening to Old Time Radio shows. All the great names of the 1940s and ’50s are available as podcasts at the iTunes store. You can find: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Barry Craig-Confidential Investigator, Pete Kelley’s Blues, Let George Do It, Night Beat with Randy Stone, Jeff Regan Investigator and my two favorites – Dragnet and Pat Novak for Hire.
There are other notable theater re-creations with Lux Radio Theatre and Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air plus you’ll find great comedy on The Jack Benny Show and the Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show. Whether it’s adventure, drama, mystery or comedy these shows were well written and delivered. I wish they and their story lines were around today. The basic good vs. evil is always entertaining. In the early 70’s the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre produced by Hyman Brown, a veteran of OTR, made a noble attempt to revive the genre.
A problem using this as a sleeping aid is that I usually nod off at 20 minutes just ahead of the climax. I’ll often have to backtrack the next night or during a 3AM restlessness to find the show’s resolution. Seems I live my sleeping hours just shy of the denouement.
There are predictable patterns throughout the shows. The crime of theft is a common theme and occasionally insurance fraud works its way in. There are gangsters and bad guys and the women who love them. Usually the lead bad guy has a less intelligent side-kick and a woman friend who has always made bad choices in her life. Murder is often involved and if a handgun is in the scene the sequence is usually three shots and the sound of a body hitting the floor usually followed by either a death-bed confession or a mumble of unintelligible words that prolong the mystery.
Dragnet is a favorite as it retells true stories of crime in Los Angeles with the deadpan delivery of the one and only Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. Together, with his partner Frank Smith or Ben Ramero, they worked from crime to punishment in stories involving missing persons, robbery, and kidnapping.
For those of you not familiar with Jack Webb, this classic Tonight Show spoof of Dragnet with Johnny Carson may bring Webb and his deadpan delivery to mind.
Another Jack Webb show was Pat Novak for Hire. It was the usual crime story set in San Francisco but the writing was so unusual. In fact, the introduction of each show opens with the words “The American Broadcasting Company now brings you one of radio’s most unusual programs”. Raymond Burr co-stars as Novak’s constant thorn in the side in Burr’s role as Inspector Hellmann. Hellmann blames every murder in San Francisco on Novak who finds himself sucked into wayward waterfront deals usually involving international shipping.
Again, it’s the writing that’s so different from the other shows. The line used in the title of this post, as example, is the way he describes his fall to the floor after being sucker punched by a hoodlum: “I fell to the floor like a bad sock on a bony leg.”
There’s a constant cadence of the scripts . . . on average every fourth line carries a simile or the clever turn of a phrase. The writing style carried over to other crime dramas starring Webb. Jeff Regan Investigator had a similar style where as the show Joe Modero was nearly a clone of Pat Novak For Hire with little more than a change of names for the characters. But in Pat Novak for Hire, the writing style was at its best.
Here are a few other lines from the mid-50s radio show Pat Novak for Hire:
She was at least 50, because you can’t get that ugly without years of experience.
She stood leaning there for a minute, sort of a girl who moves when she stands still. She had blonde hair. She was kind of pretty, except you could see somebody had used her badly, like a dictionary in a stupid family.
Is he dead? Yeah, he couldn’t stand the bleeding.
Hellmann, you ought to rent an idiot. The heavy thinking’s too much for you.
She walked with a nice friendly movement, like the trap door on a gallows.
He slipped out of my arms and stopped paying taxes.
I’ve helped you get up so much I feel like one of the Wright brothers.
I knew I had no more business here than second trumpet in a string quartet.
She was the kind of girl you’d like to meet in the choir loft after rehearsal was over. Her hair was red, and her eyes were about as cold as rigor mortis. And you knew the first time you met her, you’d been seeing her too often.
She had nice hair, and the dress helped too. It was dark blue and had v-neck, but the designer believe in big letters.
With an iTunes account you can download tons of Old Time Radio for free. Check out the genre for an entertaining evening of theater of the mind. You can follow this link http://www.archive.org/details/PatNovakForHire to find a site with files you can listen to outside of iTunes. You might start with the Rory Malone episode.
I hope you enjoy the shows and don’t forget to look for Jack Benny and his timeless humor.
As E.G. Marshall always closed the CBS Mystery Theater . . . “Pleasant dreams?….