RARA-AVIS: Re: Mohr or Less Correct

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 27 Sep 2006


Re your question below:

"Was it that Marlowe who'd talk to his secretary at the start of each episode and finish the intro by saying his latest case involved 'a pink flamingo, a polka-dot tie, and a bump on the head' or some other improbable trio? Or was that the Sam Spade show, with Sam phoning Effie?"

It was Howard Duff as Spade calling Lurene Tuttle as Effie. Marlowe didn't have a secretary in either the NBC Van Heflin episodes, of the CBS Gerald Mohr episodes.

The only Heflin episode I ever heard was "Trouble Is My Business," based on the short story. For me, Heflin was just a little too earnest for the part. The Mohr was, as someone else pointed out, a little too "jaunty" at times, recall that Chandler's Marlowe had his jaunty moments, too. Chandler is on record as preferring Mohr to Heflin.

FWIW, CBS's acquiring the MARLOWE series from NBC was part of what led to the GUNSMOKE series. CBS honcho William Paley was a big Chandler fan, and was very happy when his network took the show over from its rival. During a brain-storming session, Paley once suggested a radio drama built around a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West." It would take a three or four years, and one failed pilot, but Paley's broad concept was finally brought to fruition when GUNSMOKE debuted in 1953. Oddly, radio critics, taking note of the unrelenting realism, the subtle but authentic sound effects, and the apparently authentic picture of what it was like to be a professional law enforcer on the frontier, called GUNSMOKE "DRAGNET in the Old West" rather then "Marlowe in the Old West."

"That radio adaptation was completely unlike the book. I don't think Marlowe or Spade were converted well to radio back then, unless you forget their origins and enjoy them as almost unrelated shows."

Most of the time, you've got a point with SPADE
(though there were exceptions, like "The Khandi Toothe Caper," and episodes directly based on Hammett material). But I think MARLOWE, over which Chandler kept a much closer watch than Hammett did over SPADE
(according to la belle Hellman, Hammett didn't even listen to the show, just cashed the checks; whereas Chandler was very diligent about listening and critiquing the MARLOWE show), was as faithful as it could be in that medium at that time.

Jim B. wondered how many actors had played Chandler's Sam Spade. None.

However, Chandler's Philip Marlowe was played by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, George Montgomery, James Garner, Elias Something-or-Other (some obscure actor who was once married to Barbra Streisand, and who played Trapper John in the big-screen version of M*A*S*H, in some film hardly worth noting), and Robert Mitchum on film; by Van Heflin, Gerald Mohr, and (in one episode broadcast when Mohr was ill) William Conrad on radio; by Philip Carey, Powers Boothe, Danny Glover, and James Caan on TV. Harris Yulin played Marlowe in a audio play version of "Goldfish" produced for sales to individual buyers rather than for broadcast.

Dick Powell played Marlowe on film in MURDER, MY SWEET, on radio on at least two different audio versions of that screenplay (one of them on LUX RADIO THEATRE), and on TV in a live-broadcast version of THE LONG GOODBYE which was the first episode of a mystery anthology series called CLIMAX (the same series in which James Bond made his dramatic debut in a version of CASINO ROYALE). Powell, who could also be rather jaunty, was thus the first actor to play the part, and the only one to play the part in three different mediums, thus becoming, arguably, the performer most identified with the character. Chandler is supposed to have said that, of all the adaptations of his work, he thought MURDER, MY SWEET to be the best, and thought Powell's perfromance came closest to his conception of the character. He also had high praise for Bogart.

Hammett's Sam Spade was played by Ricardo Cortez and Humphrey Bogart on film; and by Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Howard Duff, and Steve Dunne on radio. In 1951, when Hammett got to be controversial because of his commie connections, the sponsor, Wildroot Cream Oil, changed the name of the character to "Charlie Wild," and the show's title to CHARLIE WILD - PRIVATE EYE. His secretary, however, was still Effie Perrine, and, as far as I know, all other Spade accoutrements were in place. George Petrie played Wild on radio. When the show moved to TV, in the Wild incarnation, the Spade doppelganger was played by Kevin O'Morrison and John McQuade, with Cloris Leachman as Effie. The character's new name derived from the lyrics to the sponsor's jungle, "Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie." Another "alternate name" version of the character, Ted Shayne, was played by Warren Williams in the second film version of FALCON, SATAN MET A LADY, reportedly a really sub-standard effort, though I've never seen it.


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