Tuesday, February 24, 2004

“From Times Square to Columbus Circle…the gaudiest, the most violent—the lonesomest mile in the world…”

In Radio Crime Fighters, Jim Cox’s riveting read of a reference book on old-time radio crime dramas, he describes a new breed of detective show that became prevalent in the 1950s that “witnessed a forbidding side of law enforcement in the harsh realities of an urban backdrop.” While Jack Webb’s groundbreaking Dragnet is considered to have been at the forefront of this new kind of cop show (followed later by The Line-Up and Twenty-First Precinct), Broadway’s My Beat actually preceded it by a few months, debuting over CBS Radio on February 27, 1949.

Broadway’s My Beat detailed the exploits of plainclothes homicide detective Danny Clover of the N.Y.P.D., and as an early CBS press release described him: “As a kid, Danny Clover sold papers and shined shoes along the Great White Way, and later pounded the beat as a policeman. He knows everything along Broadway—from panhandler to operatic prima donna—but he’s still sentimental about the street, forever a wonderland of glamour to him.” Stage veteran Anthony Ross played Clover in Broadway’s early run, which for the first four months originated at the network’s New York Studios, with producer Lester Gottlieb and director John Dietz at the helm.

Beginning July 7, 1949, Broadway’s My Beat moved to the West Coast, with radio’s “renaissance man” Elliott Lewis taking over as the show’s producer-director, and the writing team of Morton Fine & David Friedkin (Bold Venture) assuming the scripting duties. Broadway was Lewis’ first effort in the producer-director’s chair, and he brought an expert familiarity to the program and its locale, having been born in Manhattan. He insisted on having three sound effects men—David Light, Ralph Cummings, and Ross Murray—assigned to the series, since according to him, “you should hear the city constantly.” The talented crew gave him precisely what he wanted—a cacophonous show where “even the people in New York are noisy.” Providing the program’s music score (the show’s theme was “(I’ll Take) Manhattan”) was Alexander Courage, who later went on to write the opening theme for the classic television show Star Trek.

On July 3, 1950, the role of Detective Danny Clover was recast with actor/announcer Larry Thor, a longtime radio veteran who had joined CBS in 1948, and who was often heard as the mysterious opening voice on both Suspense and Escape. In addition to Clover, two other characters, Sgt. Gino Tartaglia—the show’s comic relief, played by Charles Calvert—and Sgt. Muggavan (Jack Kruschen) comprised the show’s cast. The series by this time had developed a reputation for gritty, hard-hitting drama that explored topics previously unheard in crime dramas of that period, such as juvenile delinquency and anti-Semitism.

I previewed a pair of Broadway’s My Beat episodes last night, kicking things off with the June 9, 1951 “Earl Lawson” broadcast. Clover investigates the murder of a wealthy stockbroker who was stabbed in the middle of a Times Square crowd, and a tourist (Peggy Webber) has luckily snapped a photograph of the murderer—though the case isn’t as cut-and-dried as it would appear. Strong dialogue makes this a very good entry, with a fine cast including Ted Osborne, Tony Barrett, and Don Diamond. The second show is “Frank Dunn” (6/16/51), in which the investigation of a club bartender’s murder starts out with a mysterious phone call. Again, superior acting in this entry as well, particularly from Herb Butterfield and Mary Jane Croft as a wonderfully despicable couple, Edward and Louise Hathaway—actors Edgar Barrier, Joe Granby, and Gladys Holland round out the cast. I consider myself a Broadway’s My Beat fan, though I do think that some of Clover’s narration is a bit flowery and over the top at times. This is just a teensy quibble, but if anything, Dragnet proved with its crisp, clipped narration that less is sometimes more.

Broadway’s My Beat was a sustained program throughout its five year run, though it did on occasion secure sponsorships from Lux Soap and Wrigley Gum. Like Escape, it found itself bounced around on the CBS schedule a good deal; from February 27, 1949 to August 1, 1954 it aired in at least 15 different time slots, on many occasions serving as a summer replacement (for Arthur Godfrey’s Talents Scouts in 1950 and Meet Corliss Archer in 1951). (For a brief period in 1954, Broadway was scheduled on Sunday nights alongside the series On Stage and Crime Classics: all three of these shows were produced and directed by the multi-talented Lewis.) Of the 212 shows originally broadcast, around 100 are extant today—allowing modern day listeners to revel in a truly splendid crime drama from the Golden Age of Radio.

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