Oct 31, 2017
“Not far from the Mosque Sultan Hassan in Cairo stands the Cafe Tambourine, run by Rocky Jordan. The Cafe Tambourine, crowded with forgotten men, alive with the babble of many languages. For this is Cairo, where modern adventure and intrigue unfold against a backdrop of antiquity.”
Blend two of Humphrey Bogart’s
signature roles - hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade in The
Maltese Falcon and ex-pat club owner Rick Blaine
in Casablanca - and you’d end up
with Rocky Jordan, an adventure/detective series that
aired on the West Coast over CBS’ Pacific Network from 1945 to
1951. Rocky ran the Cafe Tambourine, a watering hole and
nightspot (not unlike Rick’s Cafe Americain) frequented by
characters on both sides of the law. Despite his best
self-interested intentions, Rocky was usually drawn into the
postwar intrigue that was being plotted in and around his
club. The combination of mystery and the exotic setting help
Rocky Jordan stand out as a unique member of the old time radio
The series began as a five-night-a-week serial called A Man Called Jordan. During this 1945 to 1947 run on CBS’ West Coast network, Rocky’s club was located in Istanbul. When the series returned in a 30 minute format in 1948, Rocky had relocated the club to Cairo, but the premise of the series remained largely the same. Rocky was an American, but he couldn’t return to his native land due to a murky event in his past in St. Louis. Like Rick Blaine, he looked out for himself and wasn’t motivated to stick his neck out unless it carried the promise of a reward. But Rocky discovered there was no shortage of old friends and foes from the states or Cairo criminals whose plans intersected with the Cafe Tambourine.
For most of the run, Rocky was played by Jack Moyles (also heard as Sgt. Pete Carger on The Line-Up). Moyles delivered Rocky’s tough guy style, but he allowed a hint of a heart to peek through when needed. He brought a world-weary delivery to the role, and Moyles sold the part of a very American man in a uniquely un-American setting.
A radio detective series wouldn’t
be complete without a friendly rival on the police force;
throughout the series, Jay Novello co-starred as Captain Sam
Sabayya of the Cairo Police. While his associates (including
the toadyish Sgt. Greco) disliked Rocky, Sam knew he had a cautious
ally in the American club owner, and the two frequently
collaborated on investigations.
Along with the casting, the production values of Rocky Jordan helped to make the show unique. There was the musical score, composed by Richard Aurandt, that was heavily inspired by Middle Eastern music. The Cairo setting was meticulously researched by writers Larry Roman and Gomer Cool to ensure they were authentically portraying the city. They relied heavily on the Pocket Guide to Egypt issued by the U.S. Army to soldiers during World War II, and they used actual street names as Rocky made his way through Cairo. Roman and Cool also pulled stories from current events coming out of the region. The resulting scripts felt as at home in Egypt as Jack Webb’s Dragnet felt in Los Angeles.
The series returned for a brief run in 1951 with 1930s movie star George Raft playing Rocky. Ironically, Raft turned down the role of Rick in Casablanca, but he eventually played a similar role on this series.