MURDER CLINIC: Radio’s Golden Age of Detection
by Victor A. Berch, Karl Schadow & Steve Lewis
Whatever the laws of physics and probability are as they relate to research on matters relating to detective fiction, they invariably lead investigators into bypaths and side journeys that lead them into areas which were totally unanticipated beforehand. While working on the tribute page to author John Godey after his death, Victor and Steve came across a radio play written by Morton Freedgood (Godey’s real name) entitled “Let Me Tell You About Manhattan,” which was broadcast on July 12, 1942, as part of the CBS series, Columbia Workshop.
In the same box of highlights for the day on the New York Times radio page was a notice of a new series called Murder Clinic on WOR, the flagship station for the Mutual network. The title of the play that evening was “The Ordinary Hairpins,” a Philip Trent short story by E. C. Bentley.
This of course caught both of our attentions, and we decided to investigate further. No logs of the series were found, and the series seems to have escaped the attention of such OTR (Old-Time Radio) researchers as John Dunning (On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford, 1998) and Jim Cox (Radio Crime Fighters, McFarland, 2002). Nor is there a hint of a log on Jerry Haendige’s extensive old-time radio site.)
Each week on Murder Clinic another detective story from another well-known mystery writer was adapted for broadcast. Fans of the so-called Golden Age of Detection should certainly sit up and take notice at the veritable cornucopia of delights that were heard during the year and a few months that the program was on the air. Every week another story by an author such as Edgar Wallace, Ngaio Marsh, Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr), Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, G. K. Chesterton, Jacques Futrelle, Stuart Palmer, and (as we discovered) on and on.
It took some digging, mostly in old newspapers from across the country, but after some persistence, we have come up with an almost complete list of the titles of the stories that were broadcast in the series. As much as possible, since in many cases all we had to go by was the title of the story, we have supplied the author, the detective and the first appearance of the story. FOOTNOTE A.
Soon after the first version of the log was posted, Karl Schadow emailed Victor and Steve, saying that he had been researching Murder Clinic on his own for many years (see above) and he was able to fill in many of the missing episodes, and were we interested? The immediate reply back was an enthusiastic “yes,” and the result of this combined effort is an almost complete listing.
Before we begin with the log itself, here is brief overview that includes all that we have learned about the program so far.
Prior to the program’s initial appearance over WOR (New York), the time slot between 9:30 and 10:00 pm was filled by various orchestras, among them Kay Kyser, Alvino Rey and Claude Thornhill until June 30, 1942. The July 7, 1942, star featured the All Star Baseball game and the following week’s time slot featured a Win the War Mass Meeting. Then Murder Clinic kicked in on the following week (July 21, 1942). Eight months later, on March 7, 1943, the program switched to Sunday nights between 9:00 and 9:30, replacing the Navy show Anchors Aweigh.
On October 4, 1942, The First Nighter program switched over from CBS to Mutual and was broadcast from 6:00 to 6:30 on Sunday evenings. At the end of the regular season for The First Nighter, on May 2, 1942, Murder Clinic switched time periods and came on three hours earlier as the summer replacement for the other program.
There were several other changes of days and times for Murder Clinic in the months that followed. The final curtain rang down on October 27, 1943, after providing mystery lovers of the day well over a year’s worth of audio adaptations of many of their favorite stories. What we wouldn’t give for having a time machine at our disposal so that we could easily go back and listen to each one of them ourselves – and wouldn’t you?
OPENING: “Murder Clinic. Stories of the world’s greatest detectives – men against murder. Each week at this time, WOR-Mutual turns the spotlight on one of the world’s greatest detectives of fiction and invites you to listen to the story of his most exciting case. Tonight we see Sir Henry Merrivale, known to all his friends as H. M., in a story, ‘Death in the Dressing Room.’” [September 9, 1942.]
CLOSING: “You have been listening to Murder Clinic. Murder Clinic, the WOR-Mutual series which brings you each week one exciting case; one member from the special branch of the world’s great detectives. Next week, Murder Clinic will bring you one of the best-known and best-beloved figures of all crime fiction, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Tales told on Murder Clinic are adapted by authors Lee Wright and John A. Blanton. This is the Mutual Broadcasting System.”
KNOWN CREDITS [Compiled by Karl Schadow]
Lee Wright (creator, story collector/script adapter-writer)
John A Bassett (script adapter-writer)
Robert Lewis Shayon (producer/director) 07/21/42 - 08/11/42
Alvin Flanagan (producer/director) 08/18/42 - 11/24/42
Sherman "Jock "MacGregor (producer/director) 12/01/42 - end of run
Bill Hoffman (sound effects)
Ralph Barnhart (music composer)
Bob Stanley (orchestra director)
Frank Knight (announcer)
Dick Willard (announcer see 09/29/42 below)
Cast (in no particular order)
Francis Nielson (Frances Nielsen)
08/11/42 The Governor of Cap Haiten: Herbert Yost (Poggoili), Juan Hernandez (Boisrand)
08/18/42 The Holloway Flat Tragedy: Alfred Shirley (Carrados), Horace Braham (Louis Carlyle)
09/22/42 The Scrap of Lace: Elizabeth Morgan (Mme. Storey), Inge Adams (Louise Mayfield), Humphrey Davis (Jack Rowcliffe)
09/29/42 Death in The Dressing Room: Roland Winters (Merrivale), Paul Stewart (Tony Caplin, bartender), Inge Adams (Paula), Ann Thomas (Francine Rapport), Dick Willard (announcer for Air Raid Warning)
10/06/42 The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor: Maurice Tarplin (Poirot)
10/13/42 Gulf Steam Green: Mark Smith (Parr), Inge Adams (Estrelle)
12/01/42 Footsteps: Alan Hewitt (Dr. Hailey)
12/29/42 A School Master Abroad: Louis Hall (Dr. Dollar)
01/12/43 The Blue Geranium: Vivian Ogden (Miss Jane Marple)
01/26/32 The Sweet Shot: Alan Hewitt (Philip Trent)
02/16/43 Murder at Pentecost: Ian Martin (Detective Montague Egg)
07/11/43 Ashcomb-Poor Case: Helen Claire (Mme. Storey), Charlotte Manson
07/25/43 Yellow Iris: Ted deCorsia (Poirot)
Notes: Bonnell, Tate, Nielsen and Thor may have composed the stock character list. Elizabeth Morgan was cast as the lead (The Scrap of Lace) and appeared in other episodes throught the run. Although the cast was promoted as being different every week, there are recurring cast members. This info comes from various sources.
SPONSORS. We do not believe that any of the episodes had sponsors, although what local stations may have done is beyond our knowledge.
NETWORKS AND TIMES OF BROADCAST [Commentary provided by Karl Schadow]
Unless specifically indicated otherwise, all of the programs in the series originated in the studios of WOR, New York, and were heard on most of the stations belonging to the Mutual network. The broadcast times as listed in the log are as they would have appeared in local listings on the East Coast as Eastern War Time. On the West Coast, Mutual was closely associated with the Don Lee network, and many of the programs in the series were heard on Don Lee stations, but at different times than those that are listed. The program also aired in Canada as part of a CBC exchange, which is mentioned at the end of some of the existing recordings.
The short chart below appears here only to reduce clutter in the log itself.
07-21-42 WOR-Mutual [Tuesday; 9:30-10:00 EWT]
07-21-42 to 8-25-42 WOR-Mutual; Don Lee, the following Sundays at 8:00-8:30 Pacific War Time (PWT)
09-01-42 WOR-Mutual; Don Lee, the following Sunday at 8:30-9:00 PWT.
09-08-42 to 10-06-42 WOR-Mutual; Don Lee, the following Sundays at 8:00-8:30 PWT.
10-13-42 WOR-Mutual; Don Lee, the following Saturday at 10-16-42 at 6:00-6:30 PWT (??)
10-20-42 WOR-Mutual; Don Lee, the following Saturday at at 6:00-6:30 PWT.
10-27-42 to 11-03-42 Pre-empted on WOR-Mutual, suggesting that there were also no later broadcasts heard on the Don Lee stations.
11-10-42 WOR only. Most if not all of the other Mutual stations aired Music for Fighting Men at this time; likewise did the Don Lee stations the following Saturday at 6:00-6:30 PWT.
11-17-42 to 01-30-43 WOR-Mutual; Don Lee, the following Saturdays at 6:00-6:30 PWT.
02-02-43 WOR-Mutual; unknown if broadcast on the Don Lee network.
02-09-43 to 03-02-43 WOR-Mutual; the program is now carried live on Don Lee stations from 6:30-7:00 PWT.
= Except for WOR, all other publicity indicated that 03-02-43 was the last episode.
03-07-43 to 03-21-43 WOR only. [Sunday; 9:00-9:30 EWT] All other Mutual stations aired Old Fashioned Revival at this time.
03-28-43 to 04-04-43 WOR-Mutual. [Sunday; 5:30-6:00 EWT] During this two-week period Murder Clinic was shifted to replace The Shadow, which had ended its season a week earlier; it is not known if later broadcasts were aired on these two days in the program
04-11-43 to 04-24-43 WOR only.
05-02-43 to 09-19-43 WOR-Mutual. [Sunday; 6:00-6:30 EWT] Most Don Lee stations carried the program live at 3:00-3:30 PWT
Additional research needs to be done for the programs listed from 09-05-43 on. A good deal of switching around seems to have been going on. Murder Clinic appears to have aired at the times and days stated for the Mutual network, but perhaps not for the Don Lee stations. This is apparently true even for WOR itself between 09-05-43 to 09-19-43, as they had a sponsored program, The Show Shop, that was on the air in the place of Murder Clinic during the 6:00 to 6:30 time period. One supposition is that they broadcast these shows live for the Mutual stations, but that they recorded and aired these three programs later at times as yet unknown to us.
FIRST APPEARANCES OF STORIES:
As well as we have been able to determine, we have supplied both the first periodical and the first book appearance for each of the stories which were broadcast as part of the series. Many, many gaps remain. If you can be of assistance, please do. See the email address for Steve after the log below.
FOOTNOTE A. We are aware of the limitations of using newspaper and magazine listings as primary source material. Publications printed in advance could know only what was planned to be broadcast and not necessarily what really was. Changes may have been made up to the very last minute, including the possibility that a totally different story was used, rather than the one that was scheduled, or even more extreme, programs do get cancelled with very short notice.
Here’s a relevant example. An early version of the log below had Murder Clinic continuing through November 17, 1943, but when we received an email from Karl Schadow, we weren’t quite so sure, since Karl’s research showed that Nick Carter had gone on the air in that same time slot three weeks earlier. Karl was right, and here’s what happened:
The New York Sunday Times would run a listing of the week’s programs and that’s where it was that Murder Clinic showed up in the time slot we had. However, if you go to the daily listing, it becomes evident that that period was filled by a Nick Carter program. Victor looked through the Boston Globe and sure enough, on November 3, 1943, over WNAC (the WOR equivalent in that part of the country) began The Return of Nick Carter.
Since this leaves us with the possibility, however, that there may even have been stories in the planning stages for the last three weeks of shows, through November 17, they are not included in the log below, but we felt that it was worth documenting in a footnote that they may have existed.
Even once the title of the story used for an evening's performance had been solidly identified, from whatever source, those same sources did not generally include either the author or the detective involved, and thus more research had to be done. Karl’s work was done separately and independently from Victor and Steve’s, and as the pieces were put together, many identifications agreed, while others did not. The log below is the result of combining the results of each of us, and deciding upon the ones we believe to be correct.
To help achieve 100% accuracy, we’ll keep checking and double-checking. There are other steps to take, such as consulting the scripts at the Library of Congress, and as we find more to add or corrections that need to be made, we will sure to do so, as this is an ongoing project. Needless to say, but we will anyway, we’d be happy to have any omissions or corrections supplied to us in any instance where we have erred or have gone astray. Our thanks thus far to Martin Grams, Arthur Lortie, Dennis Lien and Allen J. Hubin for their additional information, suggestions and overall support.
UPDATE 1. Besides the six in general circulation, two additional half-episodes exist at the Library of Congress: “The Age of Miracles” (9/15/1942; second half only), and “The Oracle of The Dog” (10/20/1942; first half only). In the former, Uncle Abner is played by A. Winfield Hoeny.
MURDER CLINIC: Broadcast Log
 Thanks to Arthur Lortie for providing the mp3 copies of the six episodes that exist.
 The character in the original story was Colonel March, of the Department of Queer Complaints.
 The author’s name is incorrectly cited as Frederick Irving Sanderson.
 The story “The Big Time” was originally scheduled for 2/16/43, but it was postponed until the following week.
 The Shadow had ended its season the week before at this time, and Mutual filled the gap for this week and the following week with Murder Clinic. It is has not been confirmed that two episodes were broadcast on each of the two evenings, as suggested by some sources, with the second one going on the air at the usual 9:00 hour on WOR only.
 A novel or short story collection by Marten Cumberland having the same title is suggested by at least one source on the Internet, but no additional evidence of its existence has been found.
 These programs were aired live over the Mutual network, but may have been recorded for broadcast later on WOR. See the extended comments in the section entitled NETWORKS AND BROADCAST TIMES above.
 The author of the story with this title has not been confirmed, but the one by Oppenheim is the strongest possibility.
 Not yet confirmed.
 As pointed out in FOOTNOTE A above, there is a possibility that three additional programs were in the planning stages.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.
Copyright © 2006 by Victor A. Berch, Karl Schadow & Steve Lewis.
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