Random Musings: Thrill to “I Love a Mystery”

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    I Love a Mystery promo

         You and your two comrades in arms of have earned a $25,000 reward, and you figure Los Angeles is as good a place as any to spend it. Almost from the moment you deplane, however, you’re embroiled in a curious situation. At the home of a wealthy family, a baby cries whenever tragedy is about to strike. But there hasn’t been a baby in the house for 20 years. Amid killings and attempted killings, one of the daughters claims an unseen “they” are responsible for the mayhem.

         Bit of a skull-buster, huh?

         For you and me, maybe. For Jack Packard, Doc Long and Reggie York, that’s just another day at the office.

         Jack, Doc and Reggie were the principal characters in one of the best— if not the best— radio adventure shows of all time, I Love a Mystery.

         The brain-child of Carlton E. Morse, who also created the long-running radio soap opera One Man’s Family, I Love a Mystery had runs in both Hollywood and New York. The “Hollywood” run starred Michael Raffetto, Jay Novello and John McIntire as Jack; Barton Yarborough as Doc; and Walter Paterson as Reggie. The New York run starred Russell Thorson and Bob Dryden as Jack; Jim Boles as Doc; and Tony Randall as Reggie.

         Jack, Doc and Reggie are adventurers and soldiers of fortune, though not in the ordinary sense, as Jack tells one client. “But the term does help explain us,” he says. “We like excitement. When we find something that interests us, we go after it.”

         The three men met while fighting for China against Japan. According to The I Love a Mystery Companion by Martin Grams, Jr., they’d all gotten into trouble and had extricated themselves from their particular situations by putting their papers on three unrecognizable bodies after a particularly bloody battle.

         Jack is the leader, disdainful of anything to do with supernatural, and has medical experience. Texan Doc is a rough and tumble fighter, and has an eye for the ladies. The Englishman Reggie is the youngest. He’s a skilled mechanic, a good fighter, and the most chivalrous.

         The “Hollywood” series ran from 1939-1944, starting on the NBC Red Network, on the west coast. Later, the show was broadcast coast to coast on NBC Red, before moving to NBC Blue (which would later become ABC), and finally to CBS.

         The 1949-1952 New York run was on the Mutual Network. Surviving episodes of the series are from the New York run.

         According to The I Love a Mystery Companion, there were 52 I Love a Mystery serials. These varied in length, but the bulk of them were 15 or 20 chapters. The same serials appeared in both runs, but with some changes. The story described above was called “Hollywood Cherry” when it first ran in late 1939. For the late 1949 Mutual run, it had been renamed “The Thing That Cries in the Night.”

         The Mutual run also rearranged the order of the episodes. “Hollywood Cherry” was broadcast well into the Hollywood run. It was the second story of the mutual run.

         According to the I Love a Mystery Companion, there’s a 98 percent probability that all the episodes exist. However, most appear to be in the hands of a private collector or collectors. To the best of my knowledge, only three storylines (all from the New York run) are in general circulation. Four, if you extend the definition of “in circulation” to include the 1985 comic strip adaptation of “The Fear That Crept Like a Cat,” which was published by Moonstone Comics in 2004. These stories, which follow one after the other, are “The Thing That Cries in the Night”, “Bury Your Dead, Arizona” and “The Million Dollar Curse” (called “The San Diego Murders” in the original run), though I’ve also heard it called “The Richards’ Curse.”

         “The Fear That Crept Like a Cat” concerns the search for a man named Alexander Archer, and it’s the reward money from that case that Jack, Doc and Reggie planned to spend in Los Angeles.

         After the events of “The Thing That Cries in the Night”, Jack, Doc and Reggie depart Los Angeles by hopping a freight car. Not just because they want to avoid any police entanglement, but also because of Doc’s “disagreement” with a group of gamblers. Also on board the darkened boxcar are an obese magician called The Maestro and his young, female assistant, Nasha. The Maestro’s self-proclaimed great powers include changing Nasha into a snarling animal and making a dead body found in the boxcar disappear. More mysterious things occur when all five find themselves in Bury Your Dead, Arizona after the boxcar had been dropped off at a siding.

         Or maybe werewolves are commonplace in that town?

         Still bound and determined to spend their $25,000 (I guess retirement planning wasn’t a high priority for those three), Jack, Doc and Reggie subsequently find themselves in San Diego, awaiting the delivery of an airplane being made to order. They plan to go to South America. While waiting, they become acquainted with orphaned heiress Sunny Richards, who believes she’s the subject of a curse that strikes women in her family every other generation. People close to her keep dying.

         That’s the last of the serials you can actually listen to.

         The next storyline, the 20-episode “Temple of the Vampires”, is described by Grams as “one of the most frightening of all I Love a Mystery serials.” Maybe one day we’ll have an opportunity to listen to it, to see how well it lives up to the hype.

         Yes, there have likely been re-creations done from the script, and perhaps the Morse estate would be more than happy to allow more; but I’d like to hear that story as broadcast in 1940 and/or 1950.

         On that note, any work of popular fiction will reflect, to some degree, the era in which it was made. I Love a Mystery is no exception. Certain attitudes and preconceptions existed in the 1930s and 1940s; and one such preconception leads Jack to not even consider a particular person a suspect in one case.

         Last year, when I wrote about keeping radio adventures alive, I described I Love a Mystery as one of those more or less “evergreen” shows. With relatively minor changes, the three adventures we can still listen to could be set in the present. The same is probably true of several others. And, of course, the exploits of a trio of “soldiers of fortune” could easily take place in any time period.

    Dickens and the Doctor

    Annotated Christmas Carol

         On Dec. 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The story has seen many adaptations, but a recent one of note is the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.”

    Christmas Carol Doctor Who

         The story, written by series producer Steven Moffat, finds the Doctor (Matt Smith) trying to save hundreds of people, including his newly-wed companions Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), who are on board a space liner in distress. The liner is caught in the cloud layer of a particular planet, and unable to safely land because of those clouds.

         An embittered old man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) controls the cloud layer, but refuses to save the ship. His attitude is that “everyone has to die sometime.”

         The Doctor is inspired to take a page from Dickens when he’s talking with Amy over a communicator and a carol is playing over a loudspeaker near where he’s standing. Amy asks what the noise is, and he shouts, “A Christmas Carol!”

         The Doctor returns to Sardick, who’d been watching a recording he’d made as a boy, and tells the old man he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Doctor then heads off into the past in the TARDIS. Even as Sardick watches the recording, the recorded events change. He sees his younger self greeted by the Doctor; and the Doctor, speaking into the recording device from decades ago, tells the older Sardick that his memories are going to change, but not to worry.

         On this world, fish fly through the air (the nature of the cloud cover permits this), and the Doctor and the young Kazran (Laurence Belcher) encounter wonders and dangers. They also meet Abigail (opera singer Katherine Jenkins), whose singing doth soothe the savage shark; and as part of his plan to make Kazran Sardick a better man, every Christmas for several consecutive years, the Doctor takes Kazran (played by Danny Horn as a young adult) and Abigail to various points in time and space.

         In the present, we see subtle examples that the Doctor has changed the past. A painting of Sardick’s domineering father (also Gambon) is gone, replaced by one of Abigail. And where there once was no Christmas tree, now there is one.

         Yet, Kazran Sardick hasn’t changed enough to dispense the cloud cover and save all those innocent people. You see there’s something about Abigail the doctor doesn’t know. Something that could still lead Sardick to becoming a bitter old man.

         Amy appears to Sardick in holographic form (and later reverses the settings, so he’s the holographic projection on board the ship). She tells him she’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. He remains unmoved, even when he hears passengers singing hymns. Literally for their lives.

         The Doctor’s last chance for success lies in the Ghost Yet to Come. Who is that? I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Watch the DVD and find out. I will say it’s not who Kazran Sardick would have imagined.

    Copyright 2012 Patrick Keating.


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