The Great Radio Detectives of the 1950s

Cover of Variety Detective magazine for December 1939, showing a man in a suit holding a gun fleeing a police car as a cop fires a gun at him while leaning outside a window
Variety Detective cover in December 1939

Richard Diamond, Private Detective is a tough private eye played to perfection by a former crooner Dick Powell. Before he started specializing in rugged roles such as the famous CBS sleuth, Dick had built up a world-wide reputation as a singer. Born in Mountain View, Arkansas, he was spotted in Hollywood in 1933 and spent the next 10 years starring in musicals. He wanted a change -- and got it in Murder, My Sweet, his first detective role. In 1945, Dick married June Allyson. He has two kids.

True Detective Mysteries, the popular Mutual series about a noted detective magazine, stars Richard Keith in the role of John Shuttleworth, the editor. Dick was born in New York City in 1908. His first job after graduation from the High School of Commerce was driving the ponies and carriages for children's rides in Central Park. A part in Diamond Lil' on Broadway was the beginning of a successful career behind footlights and microphones. Richard once played Santa Claus on radio.

Mickey Spillane mystery series stars Larry Haines, who hails from Mount Vernon, New York. Larry's flair for acting began to show even in grammar school, where he took the leads in class plays at the age of seven. After graduation from college, he joined the Westchester Players, a summer stock group, then turned to a small radio station on Long Island. Since that time, 36-year-old Larry has starred on every major radio and TV show in New York. His spare time is devoted to his hobby -- photography.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on CBS stars that versatile gentleman John Lund. Besides being a talented actor, Lund has written many radio scripts, including Fashions in Rations and the Jack Pepper Show. For the stage, he wrote lyrics and sketches for Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1942-43. In Hollywood he collaborated on the screenplay for Appointment with Danger. John hails from Rochester, New York. In 1942, he married actress Marie Charton, with whom he appeared in New Faces.

The Top Guy on ABC stars that well-known radio racket-buster Jay Jostyn of Mr. District Attorney fame. Jay is a student of crime in his spare time, too; in Manhasset, Long Island, where he lives, he is engaged in community activities aimed at decreasing juvenile delinquency. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jay majored in dramatics at Marquette University, then moved to Hollywood, where he made good as a radio actor. A New Yorker since the middle 1930s, Jay has done as many as 48 roles in 36 shows a week.

Squad Room, on Mutual, features as its star six-footer Joe DeSantis. New York City born, Joe attended the College of the City of New York where he majored in languages and was active in school dramatics. He started his acting career with Walter Hampden's company in 1931 and has appeared in many Broadway plays. In Hollywood, he played the Heavy in Slattery's Hurricane. Joe and his wife, radio actress Margaret Draper, live in a Manhattan apartment. In his spare time he is a fine sculptor.

Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator is another in William Gargan's long line of portrayals of the intrepid private eye. Brooklyn-born Gargan actually was a private flatfoot for a time but always longed to act. He got his chance in the stage production of Aloma of the South Seas, scored in his first film Rain, and has since made scads of movies. Bill has two sons. One boy, Leslie Howard Gardan, is named for the late British star, with whom Bill once made a movie.

Crime and Peter Chambers stars Dane Clark as the handsome crimebuster of NBC. At various times in real life, Dane's been a football player, boxer, soda jerk and radio scriptwriter. Born in New York City, he earned a law degree at St. John's but drifted into radio acting and made his movie bow in Action in the North Atlantic. His last Broadway play was The Number. Dane's married to the artist Margo and has a home in California and an apartment in New York.

FBI in Peace and War on CBS has George Petrie as head man. George, born in New Haven, has been busy in the theater, movies and radio since 1938, except for three-and-a-half wartime years in the Air Force. An old hand at stalking criminals, he's been on Gangbusters, Big Story and Counterspy. George played in Boomerang for the movies; and Cafe Crown, Winged Victory and Brighten the Corner on the stage. He's married to actress Patty Pope.

High Adventure, Mutual Mystery, stars movie villain and cynic George Sanders. George was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, of English parents who fled during the revolution. In England he took a stab at industry until the Depression inclined him to the stage and a singing role with Edna Best. His portrayal of a villain in Hollywood's Lloyds of London was the first of many hits. George once patented three inventions for industry. He's the ex-husband of luscious Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Mickey Spillane Mystery stars Ted de Corsia as Mutual's Mike Hammer. It was back in 1922 that Ted got his start in radio as one of the Monticello players on WOR New York in his home town. Other parts helped Ted complete his schooling in the next five years. He went to Hollywood as a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. His films include Naked City, Enforcer and A Place in the Sun. He is married with two daughters and lives quietly in the San Fernando Valley.

Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, the gentle but relentlessly thorough investigator, is played at CBS by Philip Clarke, who made his stage bow as a toddler in his home town of London. In the late 1920s he served as a British army officer in India. His American debut was in Joseph and His Brethren, an elaborate stage spectacle. He has since played in both New York and London, solving his cases with military thoroughness, acting with a quiet, gentle dignity.

Mystery Theatre stars Inspector Mark Saber -- otherwise known to one and all at ABC as that dashing, debonair gent, Les Damon. Les began acting in high school in his home town of Providence, Rhode Island. In 1934-35 he went to England to act with the Old Vic. Back in the U.S. he played in the original production of Dead End. Less is currently heard on three daytime radio serials. He's married, lives in Califon, New Jersey, and his hobbies include raising Boxers and making furniture.

Nick Carter, Master Detective is the impressive role created by Lon Clark over Mutual. A triple-threater, Lon is a musician and singer too. He blew his way through college on a sax, later played the piano and sang on radio in Chicago. While performing for WLW he sang with the Cincinnati Summer Opera. Born in Frost, Minnesota, he's lived in New York since 1941 with his wife and two sons. His New York apartment is packed with antiques and American history books.

Nightmare on Mutual has as its chief spine-tingler that master villain of Hollywood, Peter Lorre. Before he began scaring babies and adults, Peter left his hometown of Rosenberg, Hungary, to make his way in the theater. Minor roles led to a lead in a Berlin production, after which he scored in the German film M. Appearances in Hitchcock thrillers paved the way to Hollywood in 1935. Peter once worked as a bank clerk and he has designed stage sets and written.

Official Detective is portrayed over Mutual by Craig McDonnell, who's now in his 28th year as one of radio's top character voices. He's been heard in some of radio's best-known roles, such as David Harum and as Peter in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Craig had early ambitions of becoming a singer, but soon switched to acting. Married, he has two kids. The McDonnell family goes heavily for gardening in Westchester County.

The Shadow on Mutual gets his eerie laugh from Bret Morrison, who began specializing in flesh-creepers back in 1930 with the Dracula series. Although radio mysteries are his meat, Bret is a quiet fellow out of Evanston, Illinois, who sang in the church choir, went to Northwestern University, then acted and sang on radio, including Chicago's Theatre of the Air. Bret's made four movies and he once specialized as a dialectician. He aims to fill a Broadway singing-acting role.

Twenty-First Precinct is captained by Everett Sloane on CBS. Everett's been in constant demand as an actor since he left the University of Pennsylvania to study with the Hedgerow Reparatory Theater. He's appeared in The Desert Fox Way of a Gaucho and such plays as Room Service and A Bell for Adano, meanwhile making radio his second home. He is married. He was the first director hired by George Abbott and hopes to do more directing.

From a reprint in Memories, Fall 1982

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