Breaking Walls

James Scully


Breaking Walls: The Podcast on the History of American Network Radio Broadcasting.

Available on


870 episodes

BW - EP137: St. Patrick's Day On The Air (1937 - 1967)

In Breaking Walls episode 137 we celebrate the Irish by focusing on St. Patrick’s Day on the air. —————————— Highlights: • Fred Allen — The End and the Beginning • Beat the Band • Burns and Allen at the NYC Parade • Bill Stern’s Sports Newsreel • Dennis Day Returns from the Navy • Fred Allen is King For a Day • Elliott Lewis and Broadway Is My Beat • The Death of Fred Allen • Ending with Jean Shepherd • Looking Ahead to Opening Day —————————— The WallBreakers: Subscribe to Breaking Walls everywhere you get your podcasts. To support the show: —————————— The reading material for today’s episode was: • Treadmill to Oblivion and Much Ado About Me — By Fred Allen • On The Air — By John Dunning • Network Radio Ratings — By Jim Ramsburg • The Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Radio — By Christopher H. Sterling As well as articles from • The New York Daily News • The New York Times —————————— On the interview front: • Fred Allen was interviewed by Tex and Jinx on NBC Radio — November 24th, 1954 • Goodman Ace, Tallulah Bankhead, Jack Benny, Mort Greene, Jim Harkins, George Jessel, Doc Rockwell, Donald Vorhees, Pat Weaver, Roger White, and Herman Wouk spoke for Biography In Sound — May 29th, 1956 • Dennis Day and Phil Harris spoke to Chuck Schaden. Hear these full chats at • Dennis Day and Elliott Lewis spoke to John Dunning for his 71KNUS program from Denver. • Morton Fine was with Dan Haefele • Jack Kruschen with Jim Bohannan in 1987. • Orson Welles on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson • George Burns spoke to Barbara Walters —————————— Selected music featured in today’s episode was: • The Sails of Galway — By W.B. Snuffy Walden • Overture on Hebrew Themes, Opus 34 — By Andre Moisan • Someone To Watch Over Me — By Blossom Dearie • The Minstrel Boy — By Jacqueline Schwab • Swing into Spring — By Benny Goodman —————————— A special thank you to Ted Davenport, Jerry Haendiges, and Gordon Skene. For Ted go to, for Jerry, visit, and for Gordon, please go to —————————— Thank you to: Tony Adams Steven Allmon Orson Orsen Chandler Phil Erickson Jessica Hanna Perri Harper Briana Isaac Thomas M. Joyce Ryan Kramer Earl Millard Gary Mollica Barry Nadler Christian Neuhaus Aimee Pavy Ray Shaw Filipe A Silva John Williams —————————— WallBreakers Links: Patreon - Social Media - @TheWallBreakers

3h 1m
Mar 23
BW - EP137—010: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Looking Ahead To Opening Day

Well, that brings our look at St. Patrick’s Day to the close, but not to worry the green fields of the mind will remain in April. Next time on Breaking Walls, in honor of Major League Baseball’s opening day, we take a trip to the batter’s box and bring our radios with us. We’ll tell and hear baseball stories from some of the most famous broadcasters and players in American history.

Mar 20
BW - EP137—009: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Ending With Jean Shepherd

Although Fred Allen’s death left an unfillable hole in mid-century comedy, it’s not as though there weren’t other humorists battling with networks and sponsors. Just ask Jean Shepherd. Jean Shepherd was born on July 26th, 1921 in Hammond, Indiana. He served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, and briefly attended Indiana University. Shepherd began his broadcast radio career in early 1945 on WJOB, later working at WTOD in Toledo, Ohio, in 1946. He spent the early 1950s at WSAI and WLW in Cincinnati, and had a late-night broadcast on KYW in Philadelphia. He moved to New York for WOR and debuted on February 26th, 1955. The Jean Shepherd Show broadcast for almost twenty-one years to an audience all along the eastern seaboard, thanks to WOR's fifty-thousand watt clear channel signal. This is audio from his March 17th, 1967 broadcast.

Mar 18
BW - EP137—008: St. Patricks Day On The Air—The Death Of Fred Allen

By January of 1949 Fred Allen was worn out. He’d spent years battling with sponsors and with NBC. In December of 1948 his Sunday at 8:30 rating was a healthy 20 points, but after Edgar Bergen left NBC’s airwaves the network moved Allen’s show up a half hour to 8PM. Meanwhile on ABC, Stop the Music’s popularity was soaring. Allen lost nearly half his audience in a single month. By March Stop The Music’s rating would reach 17.6, while Allen’s fell to 9.4 and Sam Spade’s fell to 11.3 on CBS. Allen was a voracious reader, sometimes scouring ten newspapers a day for topical material. In the end, perhaps he just cared too much. By June with his rating down to an unthinkable 5.8, he’d had enough. The fifty-five year-old called it a seventeen-year radio career after June 26th, 1949. Jack Benny and Henry Morgan were his final guests. Fittingly, the program ran long and Allen’s network feed was cut off. Although Fred Allen’s program came to a close, he was still under contract to NBC. When the network launched The Big Show, Allen became a regular. The ninety-minute program debuted on November 5th, 1950. It was an attempt to revive NBC’s Sunday night ratings. It was hosted by Tallulah Bankhead, written by Goodman Ace with music by Meredith Wilson, announced by Jimmy Wallington, and a rotating star-studded cast. Ace had long been an admirer of Fred's work. Allen appeared on twenty-four of the show's fifty-seven episodes, including the landmark premiere. Each episode cost over one-hundred thousand dollars to produce. Hopes were high. Before the show's launch the entire cast flew out to London for a lavish publicity stunt. Although Allen was as funny as ever, the British press was unimpressed and the show was a flop. Amazingly the show was brought back for a second season, but by the end NBC had lost a million dollars and made no dent into CBS's Sunday night ratings. After the final broadcast on April 20, 1952, Fred Allen was happy to walk away. Allen did eventually break into television, first as the emcee of Judge For Yourself, and finally as a regular panel guest on the CBS quiz show, What's My Line. Between 1954 and 1956 he also worked as a newspaper columnist and as a memoirist, renting a small New York office to work without distractions. There he wrote Treadmill to Oblivion, published in 1954, which reviewed his radio and television years, and Much Ado About Me, published in 1956, which covered the early years of his life. Treadmill was the best-selling book on radio's classic period for many years. When it was published, he appeared on the Tex and Jinx radio show out of WNBC in New York on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, November 24th, 1954 to talk about his career. The show was broadcast from Peacock Alley at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The weather was dreary, which only added to Fred's usual sense of sarcastic humor. By 1954 Allen already had a heart attack. Always a letter-writer, he reflected upon the lifestyle changes he was forced to adopt in a note to friend Doc Rockwell. Taking a late night stroll up New York's West 57th Street on a blustery, cold Saturday night — St. Patrick's Day, 1956, Allen suffered a heart attack and died on the spot. Fred Allen was 61. Due to the public nature of his death, reporters were quick to arrive at the scene. The next day’s Sunday Daily News cover featured a photo of his body with the headline “Fred Allen Dies in Street.” His death sent the entertainment industry into deep mourning. Jack Benny was profoundly shaken. In truth, as funny as Benny was, he was never exactly the same without his old sparring partner. During the following night's Sunday broadcast of What's My Line? host John Daly preceded the program with a special message to the viewing audience. Steve Allen took Fred's place on the panel. During the final ninety seconds of the program Steve Allen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf gave heartfelt tributes to Fred.

Mar 16
BW - EP137—007: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Elliott Lewis And Broadway Is My Beat

Broadway Is My Beat first took to the air on CBS from New York on February 27th, 1949, starring Anthony Ross and directed by John Dietz. After fifteen weeks, with Dragnet breaking new ground on NBC, CBS moved the show’s production to Hollywood. Elliott Lewis was by then helping to edit scripts for Bill Spier on Suspense. With the urging of men like Spier and Bill Robson, the twenty-eight-year-old Lewis was given the chance to direct the show. He was born in Manhattan on November 28th, 1917. He told Radio Life, “You should hear the city constantly. Even the people in New York are noisy.” Three sound men were often needed to re-create that New York flavor. Lewis’ first regular turn as a director came on July 7th, 1949 when the repackaged Broadway is My Beat debuted as a summer replacement for The FBI In Peace And War. Along with David Friedkin, Morton Fine would become one of Lewis’ go-to writers. Larry Thor would star as Danny Clover. Rounding out the regular cast was Charles Calvert as Tartaglia and Jack Kruschen doubling as both Sgt. Muggavan and Doctor Sinski. Broadway is my Beat featured some of the best hollywood radio talent like Barney Phillips, Virginia Gregg, Tony Barrett, Herb Butterfield, Betty Lou Gerson, Hy Averback, Cathy Lewis, Harry Bartell, Lawrence Dobkin, Mary Jane Croft, and Herb Vigran. Although no sponsorship was forthcoming, CBS brass was impressed with Elliott Lewis’ capabilities. The March 17th, 1950 episode was called “The Charles and Jane Kimball Murder Case.”

Mar 14
Songwriter Mort Greene Shares a Fred Allen Story About A Panhandler Named Whistler

After Fred Allen passed away on St. Patrick's Day in 1956, the entire radio community mourned. That May 29th, in honor of what would have been his 62nd birthday, NBC Broadcast a Biography in Sound on Fred Allen. As part of the broadcast lyricist, writer, and TV producer Mort Greene shared a story about Fred Allen and a pan handler named The Whistler. Within the industry, Fred Allen was known as "the easiest touch on Broadway" due to his generosity.

Mar 13
BW - EP137—006: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Fred Allen Is King For A Day

In 1944 Fred Allen had to quit the Texaco Star Theatre as a battle with high blood pressure forced him off the air. The next fall, in 1945, he returned to NBC Sundays at 8:30PM with The Fred Allen Show, sponsored by Blue Bonnet Margarine & Tender Leaf Tea. With he and Jack Benny back on the same network, the two rekindled their feud. It came to a climax on the May 26th, 1946 episode of Fred’s show with a sketch entitled, "King for a Day." Benny pretended to be a contestant named Myron Proudfoot on Allen's new quiz show. The skit is mostly ad-libbed, and the ending was a surprise to everyone, including Jack Benny. You’ll notice that announcer Kenny Delmar is unable to say the final Tender Leaf Tea promo before the program’s time ran out. NBC executives were incensed. Allen tried to explain that there was no way to predict how long an audience would laugh. That October, Allen wrote a skit called “The Radio Mikado,” about the hucksters of radio—the “vice presidents and clerks who were confidentially, a bunch of jerks.” He was censored by NBC and told he couldn’t ad-lib any longer. Allen told reporters censors were the “executive fungus that forms on a desk.” Shortly thereafter when on air, the network cut him off in the middle of a joke, but now other disgruntled NBC comedians joined in. Red Skelton mentioned Allen on his show and was immediately cut off, but he kept talking for his studio audience telling them, “you know what NBC means don’t you? Nothing but cuts. Nothing but confusion. Nobody’s certain.” Bob Hope mentioned Allen and got censored. Finally, Dennis Day took the last shot at NBC on his Day in the Life Wednesday night sitcom. “I’m listening to the radio” he said to his girlfriend Mildred. “I don’t hear anything” said Mildred. “I know” said Dennis, “Fred Allen’s on.” NBC announced shortly thereafter that its comedians were free to say whatever they liked. It didn’t matter. Fred Allen had finally won.

Mar 12
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Mar 11
BW - EP137—005: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Dennis Day Returns From The Navy

Jack Benny’s most famous Irish Tenor, Dennis Day was born on May 21st, 1916 in New York City and raised in the Throggs Neck section of The Bronx. Day graduated from Cathedral Preparatory Seminary and attended Manhattan College, where he sang in the glee club. Eventually he made his way to radio. Dennis Day made his Benny debut on October 8th, 1939. During World War II, Day enlisted in the Navy. He made his return on the St. Patrick’s Day episode, March 17th, 1946. For the remainder of the season, the Jack Benny cast was reunited in its classic 1940s incarnation. It was the last season before Phil Harris took over the Fitch Bandwagon with his wife Alice Faye. Because the program aired immediately after Jack’s, Phil could generally only take part in the first half of Jack’s show before rushing over to broadcast his own. Beginning that October, Dennis Day too would get his own show on NBC.

Mar 09
BW - EP137—004: St. Patricks Day On The AIr—Bill Stern's Sports Newsreel

Bill Stern’s Colgate Newsreel first took to the air on December 5th, 1937 over NBC’s Blue network. Born on July 1st, 1907, Stern began in vaudeville and by 1931, he was the assistant stage manager at the Roxy Theater and later Radio City in New York. In 1934 he got the role of broadcaster for NBC’s Friday Night Fights. He became one of the most famous sportscasters in the country. Four years later he partnered with MGM for their News Of The Day reel. Stern's career flourished despite a 1935 car accident, which injured him severely enough that his left leg had to be amputated just above the knee. By March 17th, 1944, his colgate program was running over NBC on Fridays at 10:30PM eastern. Constance Bennett was the guest on this broadcast. After nearly sixteen years with NBC, Stern switched to ABC for three final seasons. While at ABC Stern was a regular panelist on the game show The Name's the Same.

Mar 07
BW - EP137—003: St. Patricks Day On The AIr—Burns And Allen At The NYC Parade

By the spring of 1941, George Burns and Gracie Allen had been married for fifteen years and on radio for nine. Their program had been officially titled The Burns And Allen Show in the fall of 1936, and they’d spent time at both NBC and CBS. Unhappy with their Friday time slot on CBS, they’d moved back to NBC for Hormel Meats on Mondays at 7:30. Jimmy Wallington announced and Artie Shaw’s band provided the orchestra. But their vaudeville-style show was beginning to show its age. In January of 1941 their rating had slipped to 14.8. While they pondered what to do, they took to the air with the March 17th, 1941 episode.

Mar 05
BW - EP137—002: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Beat The Band

Originally broadcast from Chicago, NBC’s Beat The Band began airing January 28th, 1940 at 6:30PM eastern time. It was sponsored by Kix Cereal. Listeners submitted riddles with song title answers. If the band couldn’t figure out the answer, the riddle submitter got thirty dollars and a box of Kix cereal. Garry Moore emceed, and Ted Weems conducted his orchestra. His three singers were Parker Gibbs, Marvel Marylin Maxwell, and the soon-to-breakout Perry Como. The March 17th, 1940 episode was called, “The Wearing of the Green.” The show lost its time slot against CBS’ Gateway To Hollywood. It went off the air on February 23rd, 1941, but was revived from New York in June of 1943. Submitters won twenty-five dollars and a carton of Raleighs and fifty dollars for beating the band. Packs of Raleighs were sent to servicemen in the war effort. The show went off the air for good on September 6th, 1944.

Mar 02
BW - EP137—001: St. Patricks Day On The Air—Fred Allen, The End And The Beginning

In 1922 a twenty-eight-year-old Fred Allen, already a vaudeville veteran, was hired by J.J. Shubert for his broadway production of The Passing Show of 1922. Allen was gaining fame as a monologist. He was in charge of writing his own material. One popular gag was the "Old Joke Cemetery." Allen had a curtain painted as a graveyard, on the tombstones were the punch lines to forty-six old jokes. When Allen moved with the show to Chicago, he met a dancer named Portland Hoffa. There the producers told Allen to drop the cemetery gag. The show was moving to Hollywood. Allen quit. Back in New York he demanded royalties from the Shuberts when the gag turned up in their other acts. They re-hired him, to emcee Artists and Models. In the revue, the chorus women were topless. Allen came on after the women were finished. The Shuberts and Allen soon came to a mutual release. Fred and Portland were married in 1927 and Allen starred in similar revues until Portland joined him on stage. Together they were a hit. Four years later Allen was contemplating radio. By 1932 big names like Ed Sullivan, Ed Wynn, and George Jessel were on radio. Jessel convinced Allen to audition. Allen felt that writing a sketch show centered around characters in different business backgrounds would appeal. The Corn Products Company hired him. Their Linit Beauty Powder would be the featured product. Allen was paid one-thousand dollars per week, but he had to produce the show out of his own pocket. He co-wrote it with Harry Tugent. Producer Roger White remembered that time. The Linit Bath Club Review premiered on Sunday, October 23rd, 1932 over CBS. Right from the beginning Allen had trouble with his sponsors. The season rating was 11.9, thirty-ninth overall. Roughly five million people tuned in and the show bested the Manhattan Merry-Go-Round opposite on NBC. But, the program was canceled after six months. Fred returned to radio on Friday August 4th, 1933 over NBC. His new show was The Salad Bowl Review for Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. It would mark the beginning of a six-year relationship with the National Broadcasting Company. Allen was paid four-thousand dollars per week. Minerva Pious joined the cast. She’d later be known for her ethnic character portrayals. Allen introduced the Etiquette Department and the Question box. People could write in to have questions answered on-air, with instructions to try to slip things by the censors. He started a newsreel. It was the forerunner to the satirical comedy that would become a program staple. The ad agency who held the Helmann’s account liked the program so much that they aired it through autumn, long-passed mayonnaise’s shelf-life in a time when it was a seasonal condiment for salads. However, by December 1st, 1933 the show had to exit the air. Now Sal Hepatica laxatives from Bristol Myers wanted in. Beginning on January 4th, 1934, Fred Allen debuted as emcee for The Sal Hepatica Review. On March 21st, 1934 the broadcast was expanded to an hour. It now included Ipana Toothpaste and was called The Hour of Smiles. Allen was given no additional budget and each show had to be performed twice—once for each coast. Allen hired a couple of script-writers to help. One of them was Herman Wouk, who’d later win a Pulitzer Prize for his 1951 novel, The Caine Mutiny. By then, the program had become a local review with news. On July 11th the show was retitled Town Hall Tonight. The tight budget left no room for big guest stars. Allen had to develop plot lines. Things were running smoothly until Allen was called into the agency offices. They objected to some of his jokes and didn’t like the concept of a running gag—something Allen had begun to develop. Allen later explained that running gags were very important because they stimulated a listener’s memory and interest. The ad agency disagreed. Allen paid them no mind.

Feb 28
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Feb 26
Jack Benny Program: Orson Welles Guests as Jack Returns from Illness—04/11/1943

In early 1943 Orson Welles was in production alongside Joan Fontaine with 20th Century Fox for Jane Eyre. Although Welles enjoyed acting for the screen, he preferred live radio. In March, when Jack Benny took ill with pneumonia, Welles filled in as host of The Jack Benny Program. Jack returns on April 11th, but Orson isn’t quite ready to let go. (Photo: Actors Mickey Rooney, Jack Benny, and Orson Welles talk things over before going on the air in a recent broadcast here in connection with the March of Dimes for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.)

Feb 26
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis with Guest Marilyn Monroe—02.24.1953

On February 24th, 1953 Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis played host on their radio show to Marilyn Monroe. All three of the entertainers were on the rise. Martin introduced the play she'd perform in as, "Tonight's play is the story of a cold-blooded newspaper editor who has no friends, but who is loved by Marilyn Monroe, entitled, 'So Who Needs Friends?" Both Dean and Jerry were on their game, and Marilyn plays ditzy, sultry, and sensual to the t. Breaking Walls, Episode 83 will feature the era of radio after World War II and be available on September 1st, 2018 wherever you get your podcasts and at

Feb 24
Ozzie Nelson Tells a Funny Story About Being Handed a Lit Joint at a Rutgers Parade

On November 18th, 1969 Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were guests of Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. During the segment, Ozzie told a funny story about the couple visiting Rutgers (his alma-matter) for a centennial parade.

Feb 23
Fred Allen on The Power of Radio

On November 24th, 1954 Fred Allen was a guest of Tex and Jinx's New York talk show for a discussion about his life and career. During the course of the interview, Allen recounted a demonstration he gave to a friend about the power of radio as an advertising medium.

Feb 21
CBS Dimension: Burgess Meredith Goes to The Old Drug Store—1960

When NBC launched Monitor on June 12th, 1955, it was a true magazine of the air, running over NBC radio stations from Saturday mornings until Midnight Sunday in four hour blocks, completely taking over NBC’s airtime on the weekends. The program offered actualities, remotes, comedy, and variety. Affiliates were free to pick up or put down the show in four hour increments. In the early 1960s, CBS countered with their own version called, Dimension. Burgess Meredith hosted a show called American Landscape. He brought the listener to various American cultural institutions, like this trip to the old drug store. This audio is hard to find and was digitized from an original transcription record.

Feb 20
BW - EP136: Have Gun, Will Travel (1958 - 1962)

In Breaking Walls episode 136 we spotlight John Dehner and Have Gun, Will Travel. —————————— Highlights: • John Dehner’s radio career • Norman MacDonnell and Palladin • The Radio Dial on Sunday November 23rd 1958 • A Matter of Ethics • Killer’s Widow • The Lady Doctor • From Here To Boston • Looking Ahead to March —————————— The WallBreakers: Subscribe to Breaking Walls everywhere you get your podcasts. To support the show: —————————— The reading material used in today’s episode was: • On the Air — By John Dunning • Network Radio Ratings — By Jim Ramsburg • Martin Grams’ article on the origin of Have Gun Will Travel. —————————— On the interview front: • Harry Bartell, John Dehner, Lawrence Dobkin, and Jack Johnstone were with SPERDVAC. For more info, go to • William N. Robson was with Dick Bertel and Ed Corcoran for WTIC’s The Golden Age of Radio. Hear these at • Bill Conrad, John Dehner, Norman Macdonnell, John Meston and William N. Robson spoke to John Hickman for his Gunsmoke documentary. • John Dehner and Vic Perrin spoke to Neil Ross for KMPC in 1982. • Jack Kruschen and Shirley Mitchell were guests of Jim Bohannan in 1987. • Dennis Day spoke to Chuck Schaden. Hear this full chat at —————————— Selected music featured in today’s episode was: • Living In The Country and February Sea — By George Winston • Ghost Bus Tours — By George Fenton • It’s Only Make Believe – By Conway Twitty • Loch Lomond — By Musica Intima • Danny Boy — By Dennis Day —————————— A special thank you to Ted Davenport, Jerry Haendiges, and Gordon Skene. For Ted go to, for Jerry, visit, and for Gordon, please go to —————————— Thank you to: Tony Adams Steven Allmon Orson Orsen Chandler Phil Erickson Jessica Hanna Perri Harper Briana Isaac Thomas M. Joyce Ryan Kramer Earl Millard Gary Mollica Barry Nadler Christian Neuhaus Aimee Pavy Ray Shaw Filipe A Silva John Williams —————————— WallBreakers Links: Patreon - Social Media - @TheWallBreakers

3h 2m
Feb 18
BW - EP136—008: Have Gun Will Travel—Looking Ahead To March

Well that brings our look at the radio version of Have Gun Will Travel to a close. So, what’s in store for March? Next time on Breaking Walls, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish, we focus on radio programming from March 17ths of days gone by.

Feb 16
BW - EP136—007: Have Gun Will Travel—From Here To Boston

By 1960, Have Gun and Gunsmoke were the last dramatic productions being recorded for CBS in Hollywood. Network radio drama was dying. The U.S. was changing. President Eisenhower’s second term was almost over. The next year, John Kennedy entered the White House. He defeated Republican Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election. Have Gun, Will Travel’s final episode aired on November 27th, 1960. Called, “From Here to Boston,” it is regarded as a landmark episode. Paladin receives an attorney letter notifying him of a large inheritance. He must travel to Boston to claim it. He has no idea that his latest romantic interest, Louvena Todd Hunter, is responsible for his aunt's death and plans to murder Paladin with the help of her brother. Have Gun Will Travel closed with no mention in the trade columns. All remaining radio dramas, with the exception of Gunsmoke, were now produced in New York. Lawrence Dobkin remembered that time. Gunsmoke finally went off the air on June 18th, 1961.

Feb 14
BW - EP136—006: Have Gun Will Travel—The Lady Doctor

Thirty-five of the first thirty-nine Have Gun Will Travel scripts were TV script adaptations. Beginning with episode forty, all new scripts were original for the radio version of the series. The February 15th, 1959 show was called “The Return of Doctor Thackery.” This episode featured Ben Wright, Jean Bates, Lou Krugman, Sam Edwards, and Harry Bartell. By 1959 this Hollywood crew of actors had been working together for nearly two decades.

Feb 12
BW - EP136—005: Have Gun Will Travel—Killer's Widow

The February 9th, 1959 episode of Have Gun Will Travel was called “Killer’s Widow.” Among those featured was the just-heard Vic Perrin. Perrin worked closely with Norman MacDonnell on Gunsmoke and Fort Laramie. On TV, Dick Boone’s Paladin was a smash-hit. That year’s program rating was 34.3 — third overall. Both the show and Boone were nominated for Emmys. Its success helped the radio version find sponsorship from multiple advertisers, like this commercial from Lysol.

Feb 09
BW - EP136—004: Have Gun Will Travel—A Matter Of Ethics

On February 1st, 1959, Have Gun Will Travel broadcast an episode called “A Matter of Ethics.” The program's opening was a four-note motif composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. The show's closing song, "The Ballad of Paladin", was written by Johnny Western, Dick Boone, and program creator Sam Rolfe. Western played the song for the TV show. Paladin studied at West Point and emerged from the Civil War a mercenary with morals. His card had a simple message. It said: Have Gun, Will Travel/Wire Paladin/San Francisco. The only symbol on the card was a white chess knight—a Paladin. John Dehner approached the radio role as if Boone had never existed. He didn’t imitate. The first set of scripts were all adapted from the second season of the TV show. The writers were paid no residuals. Norman Macdonell used the same Hollywood regulars he used for Gunsmoke. Jack Kruschen was often one of them. Perhaps you’d have listened to this episode in Clear Lake, Iowa with anticipation for the next evening’s Winter Dance Party. If you’d gone, you’d have been witness to the last concert ever by Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. The morning hours of February 3rd, 1959 have since become known as “The Day The Music Died.” It’s one of the most infamous moments in Rock-N-Roll history.

Feb 07
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Feb 06
BW - EP136—003: Have Gun Will Travel—The Radio Dial On Sunday November 23rd 1958

Sunday, November 23rd, 1958 was a sunny, cold day in New York. Conway Twitty had the nation’s top song with “It’s Only Make Believe.” The inside cover of the New York Daily News spoke of President Eisenhower’s slashes to the 1960 government budget. Meanwhile Texan Democrat Rep. George H. Mahan demanded the military budget remain robust. West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt called for allied powers to stop Russia’s campaigns aimed at destroying democracy in western Europe. And a mechanics strike grounded all but four of TWA’s more than 200 planes. If you’d have turned on your radio to WCBS in New York that Sunday, you’d have heard news reports at the tops of most hours. Concerts, talk, and other music programs filled the dial between 11:30AM and 5:00PM. At 5:05, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar signed on starring Bob Bailey. Bailey had been playing the lead since the fall of 1955. He’d hold it until November 1960 when the program shifted production from Hollywood, to New York. For more info, tune into Breaking Walls episode 102. After Dollar, Suspense signed on at 5:30 with a play called “A Statement of Fact.” Directed by William N. Robson, it guest-starred Cathy Lewis as an international beauty accused of murdering her husband. As further proof of Hollywood radio’s tight-knit community, it also featured John Dehner. George Walsh announced. After Suspense went off the air, Have Gun Will Travel debuted over CBS with “Strange Vendetta.” The show aired on Sundays at 6PM in New York and at 7PM in Los Angeles. This episode was broadcast just one week after the end of Frontier Gentleman. When Have Gun Will Travel signed off, Gunsmoke signed on with “The Correspondent.” George Walsh, in a completely different voice, also announced the show. Gunsmoke was the final CBS dramatic offering of the evening.

Feb 04
BW - EP136—002: Have Gun Will Travel—Norman MacDonnell And Palladin

By 1958, Norman Macdonnell was a radio veteran with thousands of broadcast hours under his belt. He’d been producing and directing Gunsmoke since 1952. Gunsmoke’s radio show was one of the first to offer a more-accurate portrayal of events and relationships from the Western era, as writer John Meston remembered. MacDonnell also directed the critically acclaimed Fort Laramie in 1956, but unlike with Gunsmoke, Fort Laramie was never able to secure national sponsorship. For more info on that series, tune into Breaking Walls episode 114. Frontier Gentleman ran into the same issues. The show was superb, but thanks to Television, there was no national advertiser appeal. So, when CBS canceled Frontier Gentleman they did so with another western in mind. Have Gun, Will Travel was in the midst of a successful second-TV season starring Dick Boone. Its lead character, Paladin, was a gun for hire based out of a posh San Francisco hotel. He advertised his services with a card that featured the series’ title words. CBS felt the crossover appeal could attract national advertising dollars. Norman MacDonnell was given the task of directing the show. On November 8th, 1958, Macdonnell conducted three tests for the lead. Harry Bartell, Vic Perrin, and John Dehner all auditioned. They delivered the opening lines from what would become the debut episode. This is Mr. Bartell’s. John Dehner would ultimately win the role.

Feb 02
BW - EP136—001: Have Gun Will Travel—Dehner

John Dehner was born John Forkum on November 23rd, 1915 in Staten Island, New York. His father Leroy was an artist. His career allowed John to attend school in Norway and France. John was also a gifted artist, and pianist. He studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York, while simultaneously getting into acting. Forkum’s talent took him west. He found animation work at Disney before landing a job at KMPC. At the radio station, John did everything from dramatic work to newscasting. He later earned a Peabody Award for his coverage of the first U.N. Conference. He spent the last half of World War II in the Army. After being honorably discharged, he returned to California. Now using his mother’s maiden name, Dehner, hoped to act. Lawrence Dobkin remembered how difficult it was for an outsider to find Hollywood work. But Dehner had good timing. Thanks to William Paley’s Packaged Program initiative, CBS was piloting dozens of shows. By 1948, he was a regular on the network, where a new crop of directors like Elliott Lewis and Norman MacDonnell were joining veterans like Bill Robson and Bill Spier. On August 1st, Dehner appeared on Escape in Bill Robson’s production of “The Man Who Would Be King.” On April 11th, 1950 Dehner appeared in an episode of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. It was noted because Bill Conrad subbed for star Gerald Mohr. The pair’s relationship went back to their days at KMPC. By the early 1950s, Dehner had appeared on The NBC University Theater, The Screen Directors Playhouse, Escape, and The Whistler. Dehner became a regular on Gunsmoke after its 1952 debut. This is from the December 27th, 1952 episode called, “The Cabin.” Dehner spent the next six years playing a variety of parts on shows like Gunsmoke and Johnny Dollar. He was a toothless drunk, dashing leading man, vile psychopath, pillar of the community, and no nonsense anti-hero. In 1955 Gunsmoke’s success led CBS and director Norman Macdonnell to launch a second adult western called Fort Laramie. John Dehner auditioned for the lead on July 25th, 1955. But he was worried about being typecast and Captain Lee Quince went to Raymund Burr. With no sponsorship Fort Laramie lasted only ten months before being canceled after the October 28th, 1956 episode. Gunsmoke remained CBS’s only western until February of 1958 when Dehner was cast as J.B. Kendall in Antony Ellis’ production of Frontier Gentleman. Kendall was an English journalist writing for the London Times, weaving his way through the Western territories of the US in the late nineteenth century. In the September 1st, 1958 issue of Broadcasting Magazine WCBS Radio in New York took out a local ad touting their station as having the city’s most persuasive radio salesmen. They also hailed their star personalities like Jack Sterling, Lanny Ross, Jim Lowe, Martha Wright, and Galen Drake. More and more network programming was being left to local stations. William N. Robson remembered that time. Frontier Gentleman lasted nine months. In November, the network announced it was dropping several shows, including Nora Drake, Our Gal Sunday, Backstage Wife, The FBI in Peace and War, Indictment, The Galen Drake Show, City Hospital, and Frontier Gentleman.

Jan 31
Introducing: Hell Gate City

James Scully here. Hell Gate City is an award-winning comedy fiction podcast about Kirby Bevins, a neurotic radio jockey in a dystopian cyberpunk version of NYC. After Kirby uses a newfangled device to broadcast his nightmares for ratings – and accidentally shares a repressed memory of a murder – he must overcome dark forces and folly to solve the crime before he becomes the next victim. The entire first season is out right now everywhere you’d get a podcast. Go to for more information. Here’s the trailer.

Jan 29