Casey Crime Photographer
"…ace cameraman who covers the crime news of the great city…"
Radio historian John Dunning once described the popular radio series "Casey, Crime Photographer" as having “more history than substance. It was a B-grade radio detective show, on a par perhaps with "The Falcon," better than Mr. Keen, but lacking the polish and style of Sam Spade.”
This assessment of this series, published in his history of old-time radio, "On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio," is a tad harsh. Any detective program will pale in comparison to "The Adventures of Sam Spade," a show that many consider the gold standard of private-eye dramas, and to classify "Casey" as better than "Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons" is damning it with faint praise. Many of "Casey’s" surviving episodes reveal it to be a program spotlighting witty dialogue, fanciful characters, and a not-entirely-unbelievable atmosphere of setting much of the show’s action against the backdrop of a watering hole (where many real reporters often passed the time).
The origins of Jack “Flashgun” Casey can be traced to the 1930s detective pulp magazine "Black Mask"; the hard-boiled photojournalist was introduced in the March 1934 issue by former newspaperman/ad exec George Harmon Coxe. Coxe discussed the inspiration for Casey in a 1978 interview:
I had read and enjoyed the fiction exploits of reporters from time to time, but I also knew that it was the photographer accompanying such newsmen who frequently had to stick their neck out to get an acceptable picture. This is turn meant that while the reporter with his pad and pencil could describe a warehouse or dockside fire from a safe distance, the guy with the camera had to edge far closer to get a negative that would merit reproduction. So why not give the cameraman his due? If the reporter could be a glamorous figure in fiction, why not the guy up front who took - and still does take - the pictures?
So radio audiences received a formal introduction to Coxe’s creation over CBS Radio beginning July 7, 1943. The series was originally titled "Flashgun Casey," but during its run it was also referred to as "Casey, Press Photographer," "Crime Photographer." and "Casey, Crime Photographer". Casey snapped photos for the fictitious
Morning Express, and often found himself cast in the role of amateur sleuth by getting involved in the stories he covered. Many of the plots had him stumbling across a clue in a photo he had taken (something the police had overlooked), and with the help of fellow reporter and romantic interest Annie Williams, they would inevitably bring the culprit(s) to justice.
What set "Casey, Crime Photographer" apart from its radio crime drama competition was its laid-back atmosphere, chiefly personified in its backdrop of Casey and Annie’s favorite dive, The Blue Note Café. There, in between assignments, they would engage in badinage with their philosophically sardonic bartender pal Ethelbert, often to the melodious accompaniment of the Blue Note’s background piano. Another factor in the show’s success was the first-rate scripting by Alonzo Deen Cole ("The Witch’s Tale"), who was responsible for adapting Coxe’s Casey character to radio. One reviewer at the time credited Cole’s scripts with “wit and naturalism missing from many radio thrillers.”
Matt Crowley was the first actor to tackle the role of Casey; replaced by Jim Backus and finally taken over by Staats Cotsworth, a radio veteran who also portrayed the title fourth-estate hero of NBC’s daytime serial "Front Page Farrell". The part of Annie was essayed by many different actresses; Jone Allison, Alice Reinhart, Lesley Woods, Betty Furness, and Jan Miner were all heard at various times as the photographer’s main squeeze. Ethelbert was faithfully played by John Gibson throughout the entire run, and Captain Bill Logan - Casey and Annie’s contact on the police force - was portrayed by Jackson Beck and, later, Bernard Lenrow. The Blue Note’s pianist was played by Herman Chittison for most of Casey’s run, but Juan Hernandez and Teddy Wilson (formerly with the Benny Goodman Trio) were also on hand to tickle the ivories from time to time.
For most of the series' run, "Casey, Crime Photographer" was sustained by CBS, except for brief periods of sponsorship by Anchor Hocking Glass (1946-48), Toni Home Permanents (1948-49), and Philip Morris Cigarettes (1949-50). The show’s association with Anchor Hocking is particularly noteworthy in that most of this series’ extant episodes (approximately 70 or so) were obtained from transcriptions saved by the glass company. The Anchor Hocking episodes often feature an opening billboard spotlighting the show’s characters:
CASEY: You know, Ethelbert...you and I have a good chance to be famous…
ETHELBERT: How’s that, Casey?
CASEY: Well, I figure if a man’s known by the company he keeps…
CASEY: …then he ought to be known by the company that keeps him…
ETHELBERT: That makes sense…
CASEY: And the company that keeps us is…
ANNOUNCER (Tony Marvin): Anchor Hocking! The most famous name in glass…
"Casey, Crime Photographer" left CBS Radio November 16, 1950 and enjoyed a brief live television run (with Miner and Gibson in their radio roles) from April 19, 1951 to June 5, 1952. (Casey was originally played by Richard Carlyle, but was replaced by a young Darren McGavin two months later.) The series then returned to radio on January 13, 1954 and hung on for another year before finally getting the axe April 22, 1955 - the same day that "Mr. & Mrs. North" and the aforementioned "Mr. Keen" also turned in their gumshoes. Fifty years later, strong characterizations and good scripting continue to make this private-eye drama a genuine keeper.
Thursday, December 19, 1946 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Grey Kitten
Thursday, February 6, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Twenty Minute Alibi
Thursday, February 20, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Mysterious Lodger
Thursday, March 6, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Demon Miner
Thursday, March 20, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Box of Death
Thursday, April 17, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Gentle Strangler
Thursday, April 24, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Laughing Killer
Thursday, May 8, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, May 22, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, July 17, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
A Photo of the Dead
Thursday, July 24, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
A Bright New Star
Thursday, July 31, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
A Death in Lover's Lane
Thursday, August 7, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Chivalrous Gunman
Thursday, August 14, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, August 21, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, August 28, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, September 4, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, September 11, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
The Tobacco Pouch
Thursday, September 18, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass
Thursday, September 25, 1947 - 30:00 - CBS, sponsored by Anchor Hocking Glass