Wednesday, March 10, 2004

“…gateway to the ancient East, where modern adventure and intrigue unfold against the backdrop of antiquity…”

I’ve only recently discovered the delights of Rocky Jordan, due largely to a Premiere Collection offering from First Generation Radio Archives a month or two back. In the liner notes, historian Elizabeth McLeod observes that Jordan “is much like the Bogart character Rick Blaine” from Casablanca, and while I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Elizabeth’s insights, I think she’s only half-right on this one. The locale of the series is similar, ‘tis true—but at the risk of sounding crude, Rocky couldn’t carry Rick’s jockstrap. (I say this as an individual who’s seen Casablanca more times than Carter has Little Liver Pills.)

The character of Rocky Jordan first appeared in a 15-minute, weeknight adventure serial called A Man Named Jordan, which debuted over CBS’ West Coast Network January 8, 1945. Jordan, played by Jack Moyles, was the proprietor of the Café Tambourine, located “in a narrow street off Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.” (You know, Istanbul was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople…) John Dunning describes him as “a hero in the I Love a Mystery mold,” and Jordan was a shrewd businessman, motivated more by the financial bottom line rather than cheap sentiment. His sidekicks on the program included “man Friday” Ali (Paul Frees), girlfriend Toni Sherwood (Dorothy Lovett), and pal Duke O’Brien (Jay Novello). A Man Named Jordan switched to a weekly half-hour format on July 2, 1945, and ran for approximately two years.

Rocky Jordan—the show’s new title—returned on October 31, 1948 as a copy of the original except that Jordan’s joint had relocated to Cairo. (He might have had a chain of them, they don’t really say.) Other than that, it was business as usual for “the Rock,” fighting escaped killers, desert raiders, ex-Nazis, and black marketers weekly in what might have been just another run-of-the-mill detective adventure series—were it not for the program’s exotic locale (with appropriate music provided by Richard Aurandt). Jordan’s writers—Larry Roman and Gomer Cool—strove for authenticity on the show, thanks to a copy of the U.S. Army’s Pocket Guide to Egypt. Returning in the role of Rocky was Moyles, but on this incarnation he was supported by Cairo police contact Captain Sam Sabaaya (Jay Novello). Sponsored by Del Monte Foods, Rocky Jordan was a CBS West Coast Sunday night staple (at one time, it was part of a line-up that included Sam Spade and The Whistler) until September 10, 1950.

In the first of two Rocky Jordan offerings, “The Big Heist” (an AFRS rebroadcast of a show originally heard November 20, 1949), a transport plane carrying a precious cargo of $1,000,000 in gold coin vanishes on its way to Cairo airport—and Rocky’s old pilot pal Freddie McClain has disappeared with it. This was followed by “The Veiled People” (12/11/49, AFRS), which tells the story of Jarrod, an individual who secures employment at the Café Tambourine—only to draw Jordan into intrigue involving a strange sect known as the Torag. The Torag consists of men who—instead of the traditional female—wear veils covering their faces. (Middle Eastern metrosexuals, if you will.) Both programs are entertaining to listen to, benefiting from a superb (but unfortunately unnamed, although Paul Frees was easy to pick out) supporting cast; swift, assured direction from Cliff Howell; and the announcing talents of Larry Thor (best known as Detective Danny Clover on Broadway’s My Beat).

Rocky Jordan finally obtained a berth on the full CBS network schedule from June 27-August 22, 1951, as a summer replacement for Mr. Chameleon. Moyles, unfortunately, was replaced in the title role by screen star George Raft. Raft, although undoubtedly a bigger “name,” brought nothing to the part that hadn’t already been covered competently by radio veteran Moyles. Though its run was relatively brief, the fact that close to 100 episodes of Rocky Jordan are extant today has brought on a new generation of old-time radio fans who can spend a half-hour of listening pleasure in a land of exotic intrigue.

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