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NVI Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2 - 8 hours [Audio CDs] #2031
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Sherlock Holmes on Radio
by William Nadel (Baker Street Irregulars) and Anthony Tollin
The world's most famous fictional detective debuted in the pages of the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual, and soon came to embody of the intellectual ideals of the Victorian Era. However, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Great Detective owes a great deal of his continued popularity to American radio. All but one of Conan Doyle's canonical stories were out of print when the author died on July 7, 1930, but the popularity of the American radio broadcasts quickly led to the reprinting of Doyle's original stories.
The stately Holmes of England was first brought to the airwaves on October 30, 1930 by Edith Meiser, a Broadway actress-turned-radio director who lobbied for years to bring the Great Detective's adventures to radio. "Sherlock is perfect air material," she proclaimed in 1936. "There are not too many clues. Holmes, you know, was the first deduction artist. Doyle, a scientist at heart, believed in mental, rather than physical action. Therefore Sherlock has excellent radio pace. It's uncanny how smoothly it works out for radio adaptation." For the first broadcast, Meiser recruited William Gillette, the acclaimed actor-playwright who had written and starred in the famous 1899 Sherlock Holmes stage play, and forever bequeathed to Holmes his own likeness and the trademark deerstalker hat, Inverness cape and meerschaum pipe. Gillette was succeeded the following week by Richard Gordon, who voiced the role for several years before being succeeded by Louis Hector, Basil Rathbone, Tom Conway, John Stanley and finally Ben Wright. Orson Welles voiced the Great Detective in a 1938 broadcast of CBS' legendary "Mercury Theatre on the Air" (with Ray Collins as Watson), while the crime fighting duo would be impersonated on the BBC by Carlton Hobbs and Norman Shelley for 17 years (and also by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson).
The character of Dr. John Watson was originally portrayed on American radio by Leigh Lovell, and later by Nigel Bruce, Alfred Shirley, Ian Martin, Wendell Holmes and finally Eric Snowden. In the radio scripts by Edith Meiser and her successors, the role of Watson was expanded, and the good doctor grew into the charming figure that would become the model for the character in Hollywood films. "I fell in love with Dr. Watson and I allowed myself to flesh him out into a rather cozy, warm gentleman with a sense of humor," Meiser recalled in 1985, "and I began to be aware that Dr. Watson was getting more fan mail than Sherlock Holmes, and we always had to keep that a secret from the detective."
After several seasons as a Hollywood-based series, Holmes returned to the airwaves September 28, 1947 in a New York-based production with John Stanley starring as the Great Detective. Although his Holmesian tones were almost identical to the legendary Basil Rathbone's, Stanley was a far more-polished radio performer and his portrayal of Holmes was among the finest in history of the long-running series. Stanley had been born and raised in London, less than half a mile from Baker Street, and had relocated to the United States after two years on the London stage. "My father had told me so much about his native New England that I decided I just had to see it," he explained in 1947. After working as an actor, announcer, and scriptwriter at Providence's WJAR, Stanley moved to network radio. A devoted fan of Conan Doyle's stories, John Stanley attended several gatherings of the Baker Street Irregulars and even authored a monograph on the handguns used by Holmes and Watson that appeared in the July 1948 issue of Black Mask.
The Adventure of the Hangman and the Book
February 21, 1949
The Adventure of the East End Strangler
February 28, 1949
Murder on a Wager
March 7, 1949
The Adventure of the Unfortunate Valet
March 14, 1949
The Adventure of the Elusive Agent, Part 1
March 21, 1949
The Adventure of the Elusive Agent, Part 2
March 27, 1949
The Adventure of the Elusive Agent, Part 3
April 4, 1949
The Adventure of the Mad Miners of Cardiff
April 11, 1949
The Adventure of the Burmese Goddess
April 18, 1949
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
April 25, 1949
The Adventure of the Blood-Soaked Wagon
May 2, 1949
The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
May 9, 1949
The Adventure of the Grey Pasha
May 16, 1949
The Adventure of Dr. Winthrop's Notorious Carriage
May 23, 1949
The Adventure of the Curious Crypt
May 30, 1949
The Adventure of the Red Death
June 6, 1949
Special Bonus: An Interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
John Stanley and Wendell Holmes as the Master Detective and Dr. Watson
by William Nadel, Baker Street Irregulars
This exclusive set features sixteen more of the long-lost episodes of the final New York run of the "Sherlock Holmes" radio program, available for the first time in more than a half century in this groundbreaking collector's set from Nostalgia Ventures. (Twenty two additional adventures can be found in the Nostalgia Ventures companion set "Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1" and in "Great Detectives".)
On Sunday nights in 1948, at about 6:30, lines formed in front of the Longacre Theater on 48th Street in New York City. The crowd was not going to see a Broadway show, although the Longacre had been a Broadway theater prior to American's involvement in World War II. They were actually going to see a radio program performed on a stage. The last few months of 1948 into half of 1949 were the final chance for New Yorkers and visitors to see the Sherlock Holmes show on the east coast, and the "world's first consulting detective" was in the hardest battle of his career, for the growing popularity of the hard-boiled style of sleuth had caused producer/director Basil Loughrane to take decisive action. Gone from the program was Edith Meiser, the woman who had brought Sherlock Holmes to the airwaves in 1930. She had refused to inject violent, hard-boiled elements into the world of the Baker Street sleuth. Replacing her were two writers with mystery-writing expertise: Howard Merrill and Max Ehrlich. Also joining the production were Wendell Holmes as Dr. Watson and Horace Braham as Inspector Lestrade. The rest of the cast and crew remained essentially the same as the previous season, with Cy Harrice announcing, Albert Buhrman providing the organ interludes, and Hal Reid working the sound effects, with all being expertly engineered by Don Williamson. Michael Fitzmaurice is heard in many of the broadcasts, advising listeners of the local New York stores carrying Clippercraft clothing.
"The Adventure of the Hangman and the Book" by Howard Merrill, inspired by a reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Engineer's Thumb"
February 21, 1949
What curious secret connects the cellar of Bontemps Bookstore in Paris and a body hanging from a tree?
Horace Braham portrays the cuckolded Marcel Bontemps in this Howard Merrill script using a reference from "The Engineer's Thumb."
Books played an important part of the Sherlock Holmes saga. Quotations abound in the stories from not only Shakespeare, but also Horace, Homer, Catullus, and the Bible. In fact, Holmes disguised himself as a bookseller when he made his return in "The Empty House".
"The Adventure of the East End Strangler" by Max Ehrlich, inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Black Peter" and "The Cardboard Box"
February 28, 1949
In September of 1898, a serial killer is stalking the east end of London strangling female victims. Will Lestrade and Holmes be able to ensnare this madman?
For this episode, Horace Braham returns to his familiar role of Inspector Lestrade in a gripping Max Ehrlich tale using ideas from "Black Peter" and "The Cardboard Box". Braham, an acting veteran, was no stranger to radio; his many appearances included "Whitehall 1212", "The Cavalcade of America", "Inner Sanctum", and "Raffles". Barry Thomson gives his all to the role of Constable Higgins and Anne Seymour struts as Lady Margaret.
"Murder on a Wager" by Howard Merrill, inspired by elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Missing Three-Quarter"
March 7, 1949
When two gamblers meet, they raise the stakes to the highest. Can one commit a crime and escape from not only the law, but also the great Holmes?
Veteran actor Bernard Lenrow, the former host of "The Molle Mystery Theater", stars as George Anatrious in this strange Howard Merrill story that includes elements from "The Missing Three-Quarter". Set in Monte Carlo, where vast sums of money change hands at a throw of the dice, Holmes is summoned to prevent a disaster when two notorious gamblers match their wits in a betting duel.
Ironically, nearly one-tenth of the Conan Doyle Holmes exploits deal with gambling in one form or another. And the great detective even toasts the villains in this adventure as "two surprisingly pleasant scoundrels."
"The Adventure of the Unfortunate Valet" by Max Ehrlich, based on ideas from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Thor Bridge" and the "Gloria Scott"
March 14, 1949
What has enabled a former valet to enjoy the high life on the continent?
Max Ehrlich's telling of the quarreling Stanhopes and their valet, based on ideas from "Thor Bridge" and the "Gloria Scott", blends an unfaithful wife with a much-too-jealous husband. Barry Thomson is memorable as the most troubled Charles Stanhope mired in gambling debts.
It was realized at this time that, as the ratings were tumbling, the program needed to be modified to attract more listeners. The answer was to experiment with a multi-part adventure and see if the public would like such a change in the structure of the show - so, for a time, this was the last self-contained story.
"The Adventure of the Elusive Agent, Parts 1, 2, and 3" by Max Ehrlich and Howard Merrill, inspired by incidents in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "His Last Bow," "The Bruce-Partington Plans," and "A Scandal in Bohemia"
March 21, March 27, and April 4, 1949
On the eve of World War I, will Sherlock Holmes manage to retrieve the missing plans For England's newest tank from a German spy ring?
In the spring of 1949, producer/director Basil Loughrane decided to revive a tradition formerly used on the program: he would tell an episodic adventure. Using an amalgam of elements from "His Last Bow," "The Bruce-Partington Plans," and "A Scandal in Bohemia", writers Ehrlich and Merrill fashioned a drama around a master German spy and his agents.
Foreshadowing the James Bond espionage novels of the 1950's, "The Elusive Agent" has it all: an arch villain, a scheming female spy, a depraved henchman, a British counterspy and, of course, the great Holmes. But unfortunately the public was not ready for a serialized Holmes in 1949, and Loughrane abandoned his plans for future multi-part adventures.
"The Adventure of the Mad Miners of Cardiff" by Howard Merrill, inspired by elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Valley of Fear"
April 11, 1949
What is the "thing" that terrifies the miners in a Cardiff mine? What type of creature will Holmes face when he goes deep into the earth?
At the time when co-writer Max Ehrlich was having his science fiction book "The Big Eye" published, Howard Merrill scripted a tale of horror in a British mine using elements from "The Valley of Fear". As Holmes puts it, "Couldn't there be such a thing lurking around the next turn of the street...or nearer perhaps...the corner of your hallway or the next room...next to where you are sitting now..."
Barry Thomson as Geoffrey reminds us that the earth "always wins. When we defile the soil, she demands vengeance." Thomson was one of the great voices of radio in the 1940's, lending his talents to "Father Brown", "The Cavalcade of America", and "Secret Missions", as well as hosting "The Crime Club" as its "librarian".
"The Adventure of the Burmese Goddess" by Max Ehrlich, possibly inspired by elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Empty House"
April 18, 1949
Why is the statue of a Burmese serpent goddess coveted by collectors and even by Sherlock Holmes? Will it truly bring death to those who possess it?
Max Ehrlich's saga of a precious jade statue stolen from Burma by a British peer, Sir John Brandywyne (portrayed by Humphrey Davis), uses every device in ancient curse lore: strange music, poisoned darts, a suspense-laden auction, switched minerals and a murdered policeman. And mystery lover Bernard Lenrow appears as Inspector Pierre LaVille of the Surete.
Writers Ehrlich and Merrill seem to have been students of the Universal Holmes movies, often borrowing scenes and elements from them as needed. Other aspects of this tale appear to have been unearthed from "The Empty House."
"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted for radio by Max Ehrlich
April 25, 1949
An unusual pair of eyeglasses is clutched in the hand of a dead man. What secrets will it reveal?
Few remember that Arthur Conan Doyle was trained as an eye doctor before he became known as a writer. With this story, which first appeared in the July 1904 issue of the Strand Magazine, he was able to utilize elements of his early career. Ted Osborne plays the cranky old Professor Coram and Anne Seymour doubles as Anna and Susan.
While many styles of eyewear are constantly revived, the pince-nez seems to have remained dormant. Held in place by tightly pinching the nose, it has been relegated to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Often very small, the pince-nez was worn by men and women who did not want bulky frames in the era when men "did not make passes at women who wore glasses".
Max Ehrlich adapted the adventure, which eventually became part of the collection "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". Attentive listeners will recognize the final WOR announcer as a very young Phil Tonkin at the beginning of his career.
"The Adventure of the Blood-Soaked Wagon" by Howard Merrill, inspired by elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem"
May 2, 1949
Bank of England officials ask Holmes to oversee the destruction of old bank notes. Is trouble brewing and will the master sleuth solve the riddle of the dancing lady?
Howard Merrill wisely used ideas from "The Final Problem" in this exploit of bonfires and bank notes. Bob Dryden returns as Professor Moriarty in this most diabolical of robberies, which gives Barry Thomson the chance to double as a shady innkeeper and a tramp. Quick-witted fans of Holmes will catch Merrill's "in-joke" in the script: the character of Robert has the last name of Sylvester, which was also the name of a bank in Conan Doyle's "The Disappearance of Lady Carfax." As for Bob Dryden, he would eventually turn up on the other side of the law when he joined the cast of "I Love a Mystery".
"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted for radio by Howard Merrill
May 9, 1949
"If you can lay your hand on a garrideb, there's money in it"...and danger and a strange encounter.
Readers of the October 25, 1924 issue of Collier's Magazine were treated to Conan Doyle's latest Sherlock Holmes case, which could either be construed as a mystery or an exercise in whimsy. Howard Merrill's rendition of the search for a Garrideb emphasizes the more hard-boiled elements of the tale.
Chosen as the first television outing for the detective, a limited viewing audience saw Louis Hector portray the small screen's first Holmes in 1937. One other interesting sidelight: "The Three Garridebs" is one of the many Holmes adventures that contains a number of references to America, making it an ideal story for American radio.
"The Adventure of the Grey Pasha" by Max Ehrlich, inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Silver Blaze"
May 16, 1949
Just what has caused the thoroughbred Grey Pasha to go mad? What will be the outcome Of the rivalry between Lord Kempton and Alex Brand?
"Silver Blaze" has long been regarded as one of Conan Doyle's greatest stories. Scriptwriter Ehrlich revisits it for his own unique tale of a drunken nobleman, a wealthy commoner, and a wife who doesn't smoke, set in a backdrop of gambling and horse racing. Humphrey Davis excels as the stodgy Lord Kempton, with Barry Thomson doubling as the fiery gambler Alex Brand and Charlie. Although he was more often cast as police officials, Humphrey Davis always delighted the listener when he got a chance to play a member of the "upper crust."
"The Adventure of Dr. Winthrop's Notorious Carriage" by Howard Merrill, inspired by elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"
May 23, 1949
An evil doctor's mistress threatens to expose him and then dies mysteriously. Has the doctor followed his own prescription?
Arnold Moss was great at playing truly evil characters. As Dr. Charles Winthrop, he shows the fire that always illuminated his screen, stage and television performances. Few remember that Moss was the back-up announcer/narrator on "The March of Time" - a role he loved and re-created for fans at a radio convention shortly before his death.
Using elements from "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place," Howard Merrill's script gave actress Anne Seymour a chance to play the actress margaret Ashley. The much-suffering Elizabeth Winthrop is played by radio veteran Amzie Strickland in one of her few appearances on the Holmes radio series.
"The Adventure of the Curious Crypt" by Max Ehrlich, inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"
May 30, 1949
What is the secret of the family tomb of the Gibbons? And why is Holmes interested in silver dollars?
Ted Osborne is featured as a cemetery caretaker in this gruesome tale of family greed and vengeance, written by Max Ehrlich with ideas borrowed from "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place." Osborne was one of the most bi-coastal of actors. He appeared in many films, as well as just about every major radio show. He hosted "Suspense", was in the legendary holiday series "The Cinnamon Bear", the early "Tarzan of the Apes", "The Shadow", "The Cavalcade of America", "The Saint", "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar", "Family Theater", "The Lux Radio Theatre", "X Minus One", and even the "Hallmark Playhouse". However, some of his most interesting and unusual roles were early in his career in two-reel short films, but most unique was his portrayal of a radio announcer in "Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum".
"The Adventure of the Red Death" by Howard Merrill, inspired by a reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Bruce-Partington Plans"
June 6, 1949
A pyromaniac has escaped confinement and is terrorizing the London docks. But is there something more to these crimes than meets the eye?
With this broadcast, the last Sherlock Holmes season from New York comes to an end. The Great Detective would return for a final bow in 1949-50 with a west coast cast and with Ben Wright as Holmes. (Unfortunately, almost nothing survives of that season.) This final episode, loosely based on a reference in "The Bruce-Partington Plans" and scripted by Howard Merrill, features Humphrey Davis as George Edwards and the watchman with Barry Thomson as Peter Nichols. At the conclusion of the show, Wendell Holmes - still as Dr. Watson - wishes everyone a pleasant summer.
The Conan Doyle Interview
Realizing that his days were numbered, Arthur Conan Doyle decided he would like to leave more than just printed words to posterity. Spending his last years writing and promoting spiritualism, the author welcomed the opportunity to discuss his beliefs in another medium. While the producers were willing to accept the author's comments on any subject, they did want recollections about Sherlock Holmes to be part of the interview. Conan Doyle finally agreed, and left his spoken words to be heard for future generations, thus giving us in the twenty-first century the chance to hear first-hand how the character of the World's Most Famous Detective came to be and how it evolved into both a blessing and a curse for the author. And of course, it was no coincidence that the interview's timing came as the last Holmes collection, "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes", was appearing in print.
Special thanks to Tim Johnson, Special Collections and Rare Books, University of Minnesota Libraries
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