Friday, February 17, 2012

THE GREEN LAMA: The Radio Program (Part Three)

The first eight episodes featured continuity that carried over with a mention of last week’s adventure. If Tulku was shot and injured in last week’s episode, a mention that he was recovering was made at the beginning of next week’s broadcast. In the beginning of episode seven, Tulku makes mention of enjoying the teas of France, the locale of last week’s adventure. This system of reminding the audience of last week’s adventure faded away by episode nine, but was applied in a number of the pulp novels, additional evidence that Crossen had a larger hand in the development of the scripts than initially conceived.

Continuity, however, was thrown along the wayside. Early episodes concluded with Jethro and Tulku discussing an article in the newspaper that intrigued them, a mystery they intended to file away as “The Adventure of….,” offering a tease of next week’s adventure for the benefit of the radio audience. The next week, however, Dumont and Tulku experience or witness the deed described in last week’s newspapers! Could the radio audience have been so observant as to notice this break in continuity? The script writers apparently did. This procedure of teasing the audience about next week’s drama was revised as a mere mention (instead of the characters reading about it in the newspaper) and eventually dropped altogether with the last two broadcasts.

In “The Million Dollar Chopsticks,” Jethro and Tulku arrive in Hong Kong to solve a murder and a theft. In “The Last Dinosaur,” a woman is found murdered by the swimming pool at a Hollywood cocktail party and evidence suggests a baby dinosaur was the culprit. “The Last Dinosaur,” which exists in recorded form, also features an inside-joke. George Fisher, a famed Hollywood columnist, plays himself in character at the party. In “The Adventure of the Perfect Prisoner,” a talented sculptor named Frank Cobb is about to be pardoned from a “model prison” when he is knifed to death. When Jethro investigates, he finds himself up against a prison riot and hundreds of inmates attempting to escape. Other adventures took our heroes to Cairo in “The Man Who Stole A Pyramid,” Paris in “The Return of Madame Pompadour,” and Havana in “The Case of the Dangerous Dog.”

Many radio heroes spent time looking over their shoulders for the baddies who lurked in dark alleys. Criminal psychologists, international couriers and U.S. Intelligence agents were heard at least three times every night on the major networks -- making The Green Lama just another crime program with little to overshadow the competition.

Kendall obviously knew that the hero had to be smarter than the police, but he managed to avoid typifying the police force as dim-witted. Agitated, yes. Keystone Cops, no. The Green Lama would painstakingly expound on each item during an epilogue, proving he was smarter than the criminals, but details so refined that most would consider them “assumptions,” not facts. The Adventures of Ellery Queen gave radio listeners a fair chance to solve the mystery themselves. On The Green Lama, no radio listener could “assume” the facts Dumont revealed to the police and his sidekick at the conclusion of each mystery. The moral of the story, however, was demonstrated to each radio listener: “crime does not pay.”

The Green Lama never had a secretary-love interest like many of his radio competition. There was never a flirtatious relationship. Almost every episode featured a beautiful woman -- married or single -- who would, momentarily, eye the lama with lustful admiration, and this was clearly projected (and instructed) in the scripts. This was never more evident than in “Tapestry in Purple,” when Jessica Bigelow proposes taking Dumont back home for a spell. Naturally, he rejects her advances.

http://www.altuspress.com/


Jethro Dumont never drank liquor like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon was clearly an inspiration for the format of the radio program. In half of the cases the criminals shot and killed their partners-in-crime via a double cross, or offered Dumont a fee ten times larger than the value of the stolen property he was hired to find. His clients generally wanted to avoid the police for obvious reasons. 

The Green Lama was against stiff competition, however, regardless of the fact that the character was not the same as other detectives on the airwaves. But then again, every private detective on radio had their own distinct variation-on-a-theme motif.  In The Private Files of Matthew Bell (1952), a police surgeon drew upon his medical skills to pursue crime solving. In Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (1949-1962), the title character was a private insurance investigator with an expense account which he would dictate to his clients, thus narrating the weekly mystery. In I Deal in Crime (1946-48), ex-seaman Ross Dolan, suddenly cut from nautical duty, returned to his profession as a Los Angeles private eye. In Mystery is My Hobby (1945-46), Barton Drake, a mystery writer who earned the core of his income as a police detective investigator, pursued the perpetrators of many atrocities. In Dear Margie, It’s Murder (1953), an American vet studying in England under the G.I. Bill found time to assist a Scotland Yard inspector in crime solving. (The show’s title was derived from letters he sent home to his girlfriend, Margie, in which he recalled for her his sleuthing experiences.)

Jethro Dumont and Tulku often exchanged proverbs that meant little to the average radio listener. “It is written that silence is the only true friend of discretion” and “It is written that the unspoken word watches over the hidden action” are two such examples. The script writers went overboard with the use of proverbs during the earliest broadcasts, eventually trimmed down to two or three per broadcast. Scriptwriters Gene Levitt and Bob Mitchell were clearly not a fan of the proverbs, and the slogans were limited in the final two broadcasts of the series. Radio listeners not familiar with the pulp stories for which the series was based on, might consider The Green Lama as a bland imitation of Charlie Chan.

Green Lama scripts used for reference to compile the log.
By 1949, radio listeners were overwhelmed with more private detectives than they could keep track in their own private case files. Almost all of the brash, abrasive gumshoes brushed up against beautiful women, resentful and impatient police inspectors, and an assortment of bookies, touts and stool pigeons who fell victim to a fatal bullet before revealing an important clue. More than one dead body (often three for a general rule) fell within the first 20 minutes. The Green Lama was no exception.

If anything, The Green Lama fell into the Sam Spade clutch. The Adventures of Sam Spade premiered in the summer of 1946 and broke new ground as a weekly private eye show. Spade stole money out of a dead man’s wallet, slept with married women and drank alcohol while dictating his capers to his secretary. Within two years, detective programs ran rampant on all the major networks, but none of them pushed the borders of decency that was commonly found in the pulp magazines, where censorship was lax. When the script writers for the Sam Spade program departed for greener pastures, the new script writers were unable to maintain the sharp edge that made the program so venerated. The program ultimately reverted to the same style as the competition which tried so hard to imitate Spade. This has since become known as the “Sam Spade clutch,” and it wasn’t until two days before the premiere of The Green Lama on CBS that Jack Webb’s new Dragnet program on NBC broke new ground, making all other detective programs weak in comparison.

This was no fault of The Green Lama. In the radio industry, timing was everything and sensational sponsor contracts dictated the longevity of a radio program. Without a sponsor, and Norman MacDonnell’s departure, The Green Lama was bound to fail.

Unable to secure a sponsor, the network allowed the program to air sustaining with the hopes that a potential sponsor would sign a contract. Part of the problem may have been the growing concern for blood n’ thunder programs, which concerned parents were campaigning against. Radio thrillers (and comic books) were considered a bad influence on young children who were influenced by the cops-and-robbers lingo. According to an inter-office memo in the CBS Archives dated July 15, 1949, an unnamed insurance company in New York sought interest, under the condition that the program air at a later time slot to avoid “apprehensive parents and their lettering.”

For the final two broadcasts of the series, Gene Levitt and Bob Mitchell were brought in to co-write the scripts, under the supervision of Kendall Crossen, who clearly provided the plots and nothing more. This ultimately meant a change in character for Jethro Dumont for the last two episodes. He displayed a short fuse and quickly lost his temper. He was briefly depicted lighthearted, with more laughter than the solemn persona radio listeners were used to.

Two of radio’s busiest thespians, both with readily identifiable voices, appeared in the leads. The title character was played by the talented Paul Frees, future voice of the ghost host at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, the dastardly Boris Badenov on Rocky & Bullwinkle, and the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Ben Wright, who sported an authentic British accent (and acted in several West End stage productions in England before the war), played the role of Tulku in a similar manner he would, nine years later, enact as Hey Boy on radio’s Have Gun-Will Travel. Wright also doubled as a British Captain and an Inspector for two broadcasts. Actor Herb Vigran played the recurring role of Sgt. Weylan of the local New York police force, but his appearances were limited to the three broadcasts of the series because not all of the adventures took place in New York City. Larry Thor was the announcer.*

* Ironically, weeks before the premiere of The Green Lama, Larry Thor took over the role of Danny Clover from Anthony Ross on Broadway Is My Beat.

actor William Conrad
Today, enthusiasts of old-time radio programs regard the short-run radio program as a mere curio. Recent articles in club newsletters describe the series as “a sleeper” and “a rather easygoing adventure.” Anyone reading the radio scripts would consider the series below par. However, under the capable direction of Norman MacDonnell (who would soon after bring Gunsmoke to CBS airwaves), the series offered above average production values. The supporting cast on The Green Lama also included the cast of Gunsmoke, including Georgia Ellis, Parley Baer, Howard McNear, John Dehner and William Conrad.

The Green Lama never capitalized on the premium concept, and neither the pulps nor comics were being printed and sold in 1949. According to the October 29, 1949, issue of Television-Billboard Magazine, CBS still retained the broadcasting option for The Green Lama, among other radio programs, and the radio program was up for consideration for television adaptation. But The Green Lama never made it to television so the final radio broadcast of August 20, 1949, marked the final adventure with the chant of justice.

EPISODE GUIDE (continued)

Episode #7  “TAPESTRY IN PURPLE”
 East Coast Network Broadcast: Saturday, July 23, 1949, 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., ESTWest Coast Network Broadcast: Sunday, July 24, 1949, 8:00 to 8:30 p.m., PST
Recording: Saturday, July 23, 1949, 3:00 to 3:30 p.m., PST
Rehearsals: Studio 1, 9:30 to 12 noon, and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Music Rehearsals: Studio 2, 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cast: Tony Barrett (Lt. Sloane and the clerk); Gloria Blondell (Jessica Bigelow); John Dehner (Harrison Bigelow); Virginia Eiler (the secretary); Paul Frees (Jethro Dumont); Jack Kruschen (Rene Sebastian); Jay Novello (Dahli Han); Peter Rankin (Sidney); and Ben Wright (Tulku).
Script Writers: Richard Foster and William Froug.
Producer/Director: James Burton
Assistant: Ralph Jones
Sound: Berne Surrey and Eugene Wombly
Music: Del Castillo
Engineers: Hook and McKnight (first names unknown)
Announcer: Larry Thor
Plot: Harrison Bigelow hires Jethro Dumont to retrieve a delivery of ten valuable Tibetan paintings of Azmu Sah’ai that are scheduled for arrival at the local airport. Dumont accepts the job, only to discover two crooks, Rene Sebastian and Sidney, are after the same goods. When the paintings fail to arrive at the airport and Dahli Han from Tibet claims they were stolen property, Dumont investigates the details of the case. When the shipping clerk at the airport is shot dead and Harrison Bigelow is murdered in his office, Dumont leads the police to the Bigelow home where he reveals the facts. Jessica Bigelow, widow, partnered with Rene and Sidney to retrieve a valuable purple tapestry known as the Seventh Return of Buddha, hidden in the frame of one of the paintings. The guilty parties are apprehended and the tapestry is handed over to Dahli Han, who will oversee its return to the rightful owners.

Trivia, etc. The original proposed title for this episode was “The Blue Tapestry,” scratched off in last week’s script in favor of the more colorful title.

Episode #8  “THE WORTHLESS DIAMOND”
East Coast Network Broadcast: Saturday, July 30, 1949, 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., EST
West Coast Network Broadcast: Sunday, July 31, 1949, 2:30 to 3:00 p.m., PST
Recording: Saturday, July 30, 1949, 3:00 to 3:30 p.m., PST
Rehearsals: Studio 1, 9:30 to 12 noon, and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Music Rehearsals: Studio 2, 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cast: Paul Frees (Jethro Dumont); Jack Kruschen (Vino Simmons and Damos); Junius Matthews (Hans Judkin and the bellhop); Yvonne Peattie (Louise Lanier); Eric Snowden (Sir Herbert Dunbar); Herb Vigran (Eddie); and Ben Wright (Tulku and Inspector Peters).
Script Writers: Richard Foster and William Froug.
Producer/Director: James Burton
Assistant: Ralph Jones
Sound: Berne Surrey and Eugene Wombly
Music: Dick Aurandt
Engineers: Hook and McKnight (first names unknown)
Announcer: Larry Thor
Plot: Jethro Dumont flies down to Vallpris, South Africa, to assist Hans Judkin with a problem. It seems diamonds discovered in a new mine are not only genuine, but have created chaos, disorder and riots because money-hungry men have flocked into town to purchase land and start mining for valuable gems. Before he can reveal his suspicions, Judkin is shot dead in the street. Louise Lanier, owner of the Diamond Palace, a gambling hall, seems to be one of the few who profit from the new strangers arriving in town, but she isn’t the only suspect. Damos, her servant, threatened Dumont’s life. When Damos is stabbed to death in the gambling hall, Dumont asks Eddie, the barkeep, to escort him to Lanier’s private diamond. That’s where the solution is revealed: Vino Simmons has been mining her private real estate and then claimed a diamond discovery elsewhere to keep the new arrivals from discovering the real source. Sir Hubert, the local real estate agent, profited from half of the diamonds and the sale of real estate. Dumont apprehends the guilty parties and turns them over to Inspector Peters.

Trivia, etc. A continuity error? Police Commissioner Peters is also referred to as Inspector Peters in the same episode.

Episode #9  “THE GUMBO MAN”
East Coast Network Broadcast: Saturday, August 6, 1949, 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., EST
West Coast Network Broadcast: Sunday, August 7, 1949, 2:30 to 3:00 p.m., PST
Recording: Saturday, August 6, 1949, 3:00 to 3:30 p.m., PST
Rehearsals: Studio 1, 9:30 to 12 noon, and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Music Rehearsals: Studio 2, 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cast: Edgar Barrier (Robert Frisbee and the cab driver); Don Diamond (Leo Harrison and the maitre); Paul Frees (Jethro Dumont); Betty Lou Garson (Yvonne Perrin); Jester Hairston (Achille Dufresne); Jack Kruschen (Eddie Damon); and Ben Wright (Tulku).
Script Writers: Richard Foster and William Froug.
Producer/Director: James Burton
Assistant: Ralph Jones
Sound: unknown
Music: Dick Aurandt
Engineers: Hook and McKnight (first names unknown)
Announcer: Larry Thor
Plot: Jethro Dumont and Tulku venture to New Orleans, partly because The Green Lama was to give a lecture on The Effect of the Himilayas on Tibetan Philosophy, and meets Robert Frisbee, the famous historian. Frisbee’s secretary, Pauline Evans, small, blonde and bright as a whip, vanished three days ago. The police have been on it since day two, but haven’t learned anything. Attempting to find a photograph of Pauline, Dumont and Tulku witness two murders. It seems someone doesn’t want her found. There are three suspects in the case: Achille, the gumbo man, who probably never heard of Pauline Evans; Eddie Damon, who wants to see Pauline Evans for business purposes; and Yvonne Perrin, who once hired Pauline Evans and hasn’t seen her in months. After discovering a map in Frisbee’s missing book reveals the location of the hidden gold of Jean Lafitte, Jethro has the gumbo man take him to the swamp to catch Yvonne Perrin in the act of removing the gold. Yvonne posed as Pauline Evans in order to get the information needed to retrieve the treasure. After sneaking up on the woman and stealing her gun, The Green Lama apprehends the murderer.

Trivia, etc. Tulku refers to this as “The Adventure of the Gumbo Man” in the beginning of this episode, but the script cover verifies the title as “The Gumbo Man.” This is a case in point where the title varies from one page of the script to another. Tulku was not referring to the title of the drama, but using the word “adventure” as a noun. Anyone listening to the broadcast would naturally assume the script title is “The Adventure of the Gumbo Man,” but that is inaccurate.
    In this episode, Robert Frisbee comments, “I can’t find my copy of The History of New Orleans by J.S. Kendall.” The last name was a obvious in-joke.
    This is the only episode that reveals Tulku’s last name: Sikkim.
    Closing of episode originally proposed next week’s episode: “Jethro Dumont and I were well out to sea in a small ship when we discovered we had shipped with a ruthless murderer. It was four bells and the end of THE DEATH MARCH before the killer was stopped by…” It seems “The Death March” was proposed but never broadcast.

Episode #10  “THE ADVENTURE OF THE WHITE LADY”
East Coast Network Broadcast: Saturday, August 13, 1949, 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. EST
West Coast Network Broadcast: Sunday, August 14, 1949, 2:30 to 3:00 p.m., PST
Recording: Saturday, August 13, 1949, 3:00 to 3:30 p.m., PST
Rehearsals: Studio 1, 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon, and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Music Rehearsals: Studio 2, 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cast: Edgar Barrier (Lt. Harlow); Paul Frees (Jethro Dumont); Jerry Hausner (Pepita, the dog); Jack Kruschen (Garfield Brommel); Bill Lally (Manfred Thomas); Jack Lloyd (Juan Martinez); Ed Max (Reynolds, the gunman); Ann Tobin (Nina Martinez); and Ben Wright (Tulku).
Script Writers: Gene Levitt and Bob Mitchell, from a story by Richard Foster.
Producer/Director: James Burton
Assistant: Ralph Jones
Sound: Billy Gould
Music: Dick Aurandt
Engineers: Hook and McKnight (first names unknown)
Announcer: Larry Thor
Plot: Flying back to New York from a recent visit to the island city of Havana, Jethro Dumont and Tulku are forced to bring along a stowaway -- a small, white Chihuahua. Arriving in New York, they are surprised to find the dead body of the dog’s owner, Juan Martinez, in the cargo hold of the plane. Two men, Garfield Brommel and Manfred Thomas, attempt to learn the location of the White Lady, believing Dumont is in possession of the valuable diamonds. In an effort to discover what the White Lady is, Dumont searches for Nina Martinez, the niece of the dead man. After Nina is shot dead, Dumont solves the mystery. The White Lady is a gorgeous white sapphire, imbedded in the rubber of the dog’s toy bone. After the thieves have a falling out, The Green Lama apprehends the survivors of the double-cross and turns them over to Lt. Harlow of the New York Police. The star sapphire is turned over to a U.S. Customs Inspector.

Trivia, etc. The original title of this episode (first draft of the script) was “The Adventure of the Dangerous Dog,” later re-titled “The Case of the Dangerous Dog.” This episode was dramatized on stage at the 1997 Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention under the title of “The Case of the Dangerous Dog,” because the cast had access to the first draft of the script, not the final draft.

Episode #11  “THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRISONER”
East Coast Network Broadcast: Saturday, August 20, 1949, 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. EST
West Coast Network Broadcast: Sunday, August 21, 1949, 2:30 to 3:00 p.m., PST
Recording: Saturday, August 20, 1949, 3:00 to 3:30 p.m., PST
Rehearsals: Studio 1, 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon, and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Music Rehearsals: Studio 2, 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cast: Edgar Barrier (Warden Sandoe); William Conrad (Captain Ed Summers); Paul Frees (Jethro Dumont); Jack Kruschen (Sammy the Singer); Ed Max (Big Ben Hackett); Clayton Post (Frank Cobb and Al Bowers); Bud Widom (Sgt. Newton and Prisoner #455877); Ben Wright (Tulku); and Dave Young (the guard).
Script Writers: Gene Levitt and Bob Mitchell, from a story by Richard Foster.
Producer/Director: James Burton
Assistant: Ralph Jones
Sound: Billy Gould
Music: Dick Aurandt
Engineers: Hook and McKnight (first names unknown)
Announcer: Larry Thor
Plot: Frank Cobb, an inmate at a prison in New York City, is about to receive the surprise of his life. Jethro Dumont helped with Cobb’s rehabilitation by getting his sculptures shown in New York. Arriving at the prison to be present when Cobb receives his pardon, the lama is surprised to discover the dead body of Cobb, knifed in the back. Soon after, an attempted prison break occurs and The Green Lama manages to talk the inmates into dropping their weapons and coming out with their hands up. After further investigation, it appears (initially) that Cobb was responsible for smuggling the weapons into the prison. After questioning inmates like Sammy the Singer and Big Ben Hackett, Dumont finds Sammy’s dead body stashed in a closet. It doesn’t take long for The Green Lama to reveal to Warden Sandoe the guilty culprit. Captain Ed Summers smuggled the guns into the prison, hoping a prison break would cause the Warden to lose his job, so Summers could take his place. Confronted with the truth, and disarmed, Summers is taken into custody.

In Conclusion
Since the Internet these days is flooded with mis-information, usually reprinting the same information found on other websites, it seems fitting to debunk a number of modern-day myths that have sprouted across the globe. One such myth is that the audition recording (and only the audition) offers a teaser of next week’s episode. The fact remains that a teaser was employed at the end of most episodes. Another myth is that a rehearsal recording circulates among collectors. The transcription discs that the five surviving recordings originate verify that they were in fact recordings for broadcast (except for the rehearsal recording). Another claims that The Green Lama was pre-empted on July 10 due to a special “Citizen of the World” radio broadcast. The program was not pre-empted on July 10. The program simply moved from Saturday to Sunday throughout most of the CBS Radio Network.

Picture of an mp3 bootleg
The most common myth is that The Green Lama radio programs are in the “public domain,” legal terminology that a number of fans use to declare innocence regarding posting copies of the existing recordings on the Internet. (This means any and all download services, paid or free, offering recordings of the radio program are committing a copyright violation -- plain and simple.) The initial contract with Ken Crossen and CBS in early 1949 stipulated the rights were sold to the network for a specific period of time. After which, the rights were reverted back to Crossen. For the scripts co-written by Crossen and Froug, William Froug’s estate retains half of the copyrights. For the two scripts written by Gene Levitt and Bob Mitchell, the copyright is divided equally among three parties (Crossen included). The recordings still remain copyrighted.

Notes
The titles of the episodes originate from the radio scripts available at the Kendall Crossen Collection at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center and the Library of Congress. More than one hard copy of each script exists, revealing a number of differences between the first and final draft. The initial broadcast log consisting of titles and broadcast dates was compiled by archivist Ray Stanich in the early 1980s. Stanich consulted the first draft of each script, which on occasion revealed the intended title before the producers settled on a more colorful one. Episode 11, for example, was originally titled “The Case of the Patient Prisoner.” Episode eight was originally titled “The African Diamond Affair.” This was no fault of Stanich, who at the time had no other reliable information from which to base his findings. It is hoped that the broadcast log featured in this chapter will help correct the many errors found on the Internet.

Altus Press has recently released a three-volume set of all the Green lama pulp magazine stories, along with essays of historical nature, including the radio program and the comic books. Buy all three of them and own the complete series! http://www.altuspress.com/

Special thanks to Jo Bagwell, Stephen Jansen, Mel Simons, Ken Stockinger and Jerry Williams.

GREEN LAMA is a trademark controlled by, and licensed from, Argosy Communications, Inc.

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