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Welcome to Down These Mean Streets, a weekly trip back to the Golden Age of Radio where we rub elbows with the era's greatest private eyes, cops, and crime-fighters. Since 2013, I've been podcasting everything from cozy mysteries to police procedurals, spotlighting characters ranging from hard boiled gumshoes to amateur sleuths. 

Be sure to tune in each Sunday for adventures of a radio detective and the behind-the-scenes stories of their shows. Join me as we spend time with Sam Spade, Johnny Dollar, Sgt. Joe Friday, and more!

"Friend to those who have no friend..."

Jun 23, 2017

“Boston Blackie” was the nickname of Horatio Black, a reformed thief and modern day Robin Hood in the vein of The Saint. Emerging from the pen and mind of a real-life convict, Blackie went on to become one of the most popular radio detectives of the 1940s and 1950s.

He was created by Jack Boyle, whose writing career began behind bars with a series of true crime confession novels written under his prison number, 6006. The stories originated in San Quentin and were published by The American Magazine. Editor Ray Long recalled Boyle as “an opium addict, and a hard drinking man if ever there was one. But withal, one of the most entertaining men in the world, and so far as his dealings with me went, a square shooter.” Long encouraged Boyle to continue writing upon his release.

Those initial 12 short stories were collected and published as a novel in 1919. From 1918 to 1927, Blackie appeared in nine silent films, but actor Chester Morris made the role his own during a run of 14 B-movies for Columbia Pictures from 1941 to 1949. This film series established Blackie as a reformed jewel thief who used his knowledge of the underworld to come to the aid of innocent victims. Throughout the series, Blackie was pursued by Inspector Farraday of the police (played by Richard Lane). Farraday was never convinced that Blackie had gone over to the side of law and order and he was always quick to blame Blackie for any robberies in his proximity.

Blackie first came to radio in 1944 for an NBC summer series replacing Amos n’ Andy. Sponsored by Rinso, the Boston Blackie radio show starred Chester Morris and Richard Lane (reprising their screen roles) and promoted One Mysterious Night, the upcoming Columbia Boston Blackie film. As the introduction to the series explained every week, Blackie was an “enemy to those who make him an enemy, friend to those who have no friend. Along with Blackie and Inspector Farraday, the NBC series featured recurring characters like Blackie’s wealthy benefactor Arthur Manletter and “Shorty,” Blackie’s driver and sidekick. Veteran announcer Harlow Wilcox, who pitched Johnson’s Wax on Fibber McGee & Molly and Auto-Lite Spark Plugs on Suspense, announced the show. The Morris-NBC series ran for 13 weeks.

A year after the Morris series signed off of NBC, Boston Blackie returned to radio in a syndicated series from producer Frederick Ziv. Ziv was a pioneer of radio and television syndication, and he later brought a Blackie TV series to the air in 1951. Richard “Dick” Kollmar played Blackie for the entire Ziv run, appearing in over 200 episodes. Kollmar was perhaps most famous for co-hosting the morning radio show Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick for 18 years with his wife Dorothy Kilgallen. In the syndicated series, Inspector Farrady was played by Maurice Tarplin, a versatile New York radio actor who could also be heard narrating tales of terror as The Mysterious Traveler. Actresses Lesley Woods and Jan Miner appeared as Blackie’s girlfriend Mary Wesley (coincidentally, both actresses also played Ann Williams, reporter and gal pal of Casey, Crime Photographer on CBS during the same period!).

In both runs of the series, plots often involved Blackie being set up or suspected of a robbery. Another frequently employed plot device would involve old cellmates of Blackie’s, or criminals he’d sent up the river, breaking out of jail to exact their revenge. The series was a more lighthearted affair than some of the more hardboiled offerings from the Golden Age of Radio, but it was solidly entertaining with lively characterizations and plots.