A look at Crime Correspondent

The overwhelming success of Dragnet — surely the greatest police procedural on radio — predictably led to the creation of several similar programs. Dragnet’s network, NBC, offered several more twists on the genre. Perhaps the best was Tales of the Texas Rangers which sounds as if it might be a juvenile western but was actually an excellent Texas-set police (or Ranger) procedural. Confession, was a fascinating and too-short-lived criminal procedural that dramatized true crimes from the perspectives of the convicted.

Crime Correspondent

NBC’s network CBS somewhat successfully countered with The Line Up (a procedural set in New York City), 21st Precinct (another New York procedural), and the absolutely fascinating Night Watch — one of the first unscripted “reality” shows in which a police recorder rode with Culver City PD to the scenes of actual crimes. Someone recently told me about another CBS crime drama of which I hadn’t heard, Crime Correspondent. I was intrigued.

*****

Crime Correspondent was intended to be a vehicle for Paul Frees, an incredibly prodigious actor who here played a radio correspondent named Larry Mitchell who comes off a bit like Randy Stone on NBC’s NightPaul FreesBeat. On that program, “Lucky” Stone was a fictitious reporter/crusader who every episode found himself improbably drawn into various sordid nocturnal fiascos which always concluded in time for him to write a newspaper article about it. Mitchell signed off his radio broadcasts with the line “Remember — Truth, like the sun, submits to being obscured. But like the sun, only for a time.” However, Crime Correspondent went on the air the year before Night Beat.

The star, Paul Frees, was born Solomon Hersh in Chicago in 1920. He was one of several actors billed as the “Man of A Thousand Voices,” and got his start invaudeville as “Buddy Green.” Frees’s freely malleable voice was heard if not always recognized by listeners of The Black Book,The Adventures of Ellery Queen, Escape!,Family Theatre, Lux Radio Theatre, NBC University Theatre, Rogue’s Gallery,Suspense, The First Nighter Program, andThe Whistler. His first starring role was asThe Player (1948) on which he played every voice part.

Crime Correspondent‘s episodes were penned by “Adrian Gendot” — possibly the pen name of a blacklisted writer who was also credited on Dangerous Assignment, Perry Mason, Sky King, The Whistler, andYours Truly, Johnny Dollar — and William Fifield — a contributor to The Paris Review who was later renowned for his interviews with subjects like Jacques Cousteau. The show’s announcer was Paul Masterson (of The Adventures of Ellery Queen). It was produced and directed by Gordon T. Hughes (who also worked on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Way Down Home). The score was composed by Martin Skyles.

The series debuted on 4 November, 1949 with “The Chair for Dino.” It was followed by “Killer At Large,”“Firebug,” and “Squeeze Play,” which proved to be the series’ conclusion when it aired on 25 November, 1949. Of the just four episodes that aired, only the debut is currently in circulation. Since there is just one episode of Crime Correspondent in existence, it is sometimes included on OTR compilations which one can find in Amoeba‘s spoken word section when we have them in stock.
You can also listen to it here:

Listening to “The Chair for Dino” it becomes immediately clear isn’t a police procedural, as I’d hoped, but a detective show along the lines of Richard Diamond, Private Detective or Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. It’s tone strikes me as uneven — some of the humor is decidedly of the gallows variety yet the acting and writing more in line with comic strip series like The Blue Beetle or Dick Tracy. If it were better I’d compare it to The Spirit.

Crime Correspondent ran in most markets at 8:30 — later than most juvenile programs — which some radio historians have speculated led to its early demise. However, if adult-targeted programs more suitable for children were doomed to failure then what can explain the success of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a show which ran for twelve years and saw the production of an staggering 811 episodes?

Whatever the reasons for Crime Correspondent‘s abrupt cancellation, saying that Frees rebounded from its failure is giving it too much credit. In the 1950s and beyond, Frees was a practically unstoppable force.He continued to appear regularly on popular radio programs in the including This Is Your FBI, Crime Classics,Gunsmoke, CBS Radio Workshop, and Hallmark Hall of Fame. He acted on at least 74 radio series between 1945 and 1957. His voicework was also featured as the voice Boris Badenov on The Rocky and Bullwinkle ShowJolly Green Giants sidekick, Little Green Sproutand the voice of the unseen “Ghost Host” in Disneyland‘s Haunted Mansion ride. He was even more prolific as an on-screen actor, appearing in at least 341 film and television roles — has last being in a filmic adaptation of Kenneth Grahame‘s book Wind in the Willows, which aired after his death at the age of 66 in 1986.

I enjoyed discovering and listening to Crime Correspondent even though there’s only one episode and it wasn’t exactly the finest example of radio noir or police procedural but it served as a reminder of just how rich the history of radio dramas is. Please hip me to more (as an Australian recently did with D24, based on files from the Victoria Police Department) and I’ll seek them out.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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