An introduction to Crime Classics on the anniversary of its debut

Crime Classics was a CBS radio series which following a 1952 audition aired from 15 June 15 1953 to 30 June 1954. To quote its own introduction it was “A series of true crime stories from the records and newspapers of every land, from every time.” It’s one of the finest programs of its sort.

Elliott Lewis
Elliott Lewis

Crime Classics was created, produced, and directed by radio actor/director Elliott “Mr. Radio” Lewis (Broadway is my Beat, Suspense) Like true crime docudramas on radio before it (e.g. Somebody Knows) and on television after (e.g. America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries), Crime Classics relied on dramatizations of criminal acts. Unlike those shows, however, Crime Classics didn’t appeal to listeners to turn vigilante and solve the crime. The crimes depicted on Crime Classics were “classics” and the motivation in their recreation seemed primarily to have been motivated by Lewis’s morbid fascination with the subject matter and his desire to entertain rather than even a pretense of solving crimes or catching criminals. There was, although the crimes were historic in nature, a tabloid feel and they were recounted in a droll, ironic manner by he fictional Thomas Hyland, a “connoisseur of crime, student of violence, and teller of murders” who was portrayed by actor Lou Merrill. In some ways, its tone was closer to EC Comics‘ horror anthologies than to other true crime series.

Each episode was co-written by David Friedkin and Morton Fine (Bold Venture, Broadway is My Beat, Gunsmoke, and Suspense). The theme was composed by none other than the incomparable Bernard Hermann, at that time still known mostly for his association with Orson Welles and two years off from beginning his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock.

Although the crimes recounted on the show were not actually of “every land, from every time” they did span several millennia and continents including ancient Greece and Rome, Renaissance Spain, and 18th and 19th century America and Europe. Episodic in nature, various radio actors appeared in, often in several roles including the great William Conrad, Jack Kruschen, Herb Butterfield, Betty Harford, Betty Lou Gerson, Clayton Post, Jack Edwards, Jay Novello, Mary Jane Croft, Sam Edwards, Edgar Barrier, Eve McVeagh, Hans Conried, Harry Bartell, Irene Tedrow, William Johnstone, Alec Harford, Alistair Duncan, Alma Lawton, Anthony Ellis, Barney Phillips, Ben Wright, Benny Rubin, Bill Bissell, Bob Cole, Byron Kane, Charles Calvert, Charles Davis, Charlotte Lawrence, Curt Martell, D.J. Thompson, David Young, Dick Beals, Dix Davis, Ellen Morgan, Eric Snowden, Florence Wolcott, Frederick Shields, Gary Montgomery, Georgia Ellis, Gladys Holland, Hy Averback, James Eagles, James McCallion., Jane Webb, Jean Howell, Jean Wood, Jeanette Nolan, Jerry Desmond, Jerry Hausner, John Dehner, Joseph Granby, Joseph Kearns, Julie Bennett, Junius Matthews, Lamont Johnson, Lary Thor, Lee Millar, Lillian Buyeff, Lou Krugman, Martha Wentworth, Marvin Miller, Norma Varden, Paul Frees, Paula Winslowe, Raymond Lawrence, Richard Peel, Roy Glenn, Russell Simpson, Sammie Hill, Sarah Selby, Shepard Menken, Steve Roberts, Terry Kilburn, Tony Barrett, Truda Marson, Tudor Owen, Vic Perrin, Virginia Gregg, and Walter Tetley.

Of the 52 broadcasts, 51 episodes are in circulation. The easiest (and free) way to hear them is from the Internet Radio Archive. The most thoroughly-researched, accurate, and thoroughly-recounted information on the series is available at The Digital Deli Too

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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 BoingLos 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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