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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!

Happy Birthday, Richard Denning

Mar 27, 2017

Actor Richard Denning was born March 27, 1914. A handsome leading man, he’s best known to old time radio fans for a pair of shows: first, he was George Cooper co-starring with Lucille Ball on My Favorite Husband. Then, he was Jerry North, amateur sleuth and half of Mr. and Mrs. North.

Denning starred in several films in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but his career was put on hiatus for his military service during World War II. Once he came home, it would be almost two years before he was offered additional film work; it was a period when Denning and his family lived in a mobile home. His career slump ended when he was cast opposite Lucille Ball in My Favorite Husband.

The series followed the comedic misadventures of Liz and George Cooper - “two people who live together and like it.” Initially the couple’s surname was Cugat, but confusion with bandleader Xavier Cugat led to the name change by the 26th episode.The show was based on a pair of novels about an upper-class banker and his socialite wife. Soon into the run, to make the characters more accessible, the writers changed the Coopers to an average middle-class couple. Denning had fantastic chemistry with Lucille Ball as the titular "favorite husband" - occasionally an accomplice in his wife's crazy schemes but usually showing up for the aftermath. His quips and romantic banter with Lucy make the Coopers one of the best radio couples.

The series aired on CBS from 1948 to 1951. In 1950, CBS approached Lucille Ball about a television series, but she refused to do a show without her real-life husband Desi Arnaz playing her on-screen spouse. After much negotiation, CBS agreed. The resulting program was I Love Lucy. Many of the My Favorite Husband writers joined the staff of I Love Lucy, and several radio scripts were reworked as TV episodes. Though Richard Denning didn't make the jump to I Love Lucy, his film career had resumed by the late 1940s with appearances in several B-movie detective and sci-fi pictures.

In 1952, Denning took on the role of Jerry North, half of the popular amateur detective duo Mr. and Mrs. North. With Barbara Britton as wife Pam, Denning starred in the television adventures of the couple from 1952 until 1954. The Norths had starred in their own radio series since 1942, but on the radio they were voiced by Alice Frost and Joseph Curtin. The popularity of the TV Norths led Denning and Britton to take over the roles on radio in 1953. Jerry was a New York publisher and Pam was his eagle-eyed wife. Together, the pair had an uncanny knack for landing in the middle of murders, kidnappings, and other crimes. Unfortunately for evildoers, Pam and Jerry were no slouch in the gumshoe game - particularly Pam, who stands out as one of radio’s premiere female detectives.

After the TV series ended in 1954, Denning and Britton played the Norths on radio until 1955. In his post-North career, Denning had a major role in the Universal monster classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. He stepped back into the detective game in a single season on NBC as private eye Michael Shayne from 1960 to 1961. By 1968, Richard Denning had mostly retired from show business and was living with his wife in Hawaii. Producer Leonard Freeman offered Denning the role of Governor Paul Jameson in the Jack Lord crime series Hawaii Five-O, a recurring role that kept Denning on TV screens from 1968 until 1980.