Christopher London Creator and Author Erle Stanley Gardner points to his stack of novels over the years.
Spot ad for NBC's one-two lineup over Syracuse station WSYR from April 2, 1950
Christopher London premiere
spot ad from January 22 1950
Christopher London spot ad from February 12 1950
Syndicated article on how the popular Detectives of the era would approach a famous Million dollar theft of the era from January 23 1950
Bringing big name Film and Stage actors to Radio was always a coup for the networks throughout the Golden Age of Radio-for independent programming syndicators as well.
Frederick Ziv successfully coaxed Adolph Menjou and Verree Teasdale, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Ronald Colman, Fred MacMurray and Irene Dunne into syndicated series' for him. Ronald Colman and Benita Hume also headlined their own The Halls of Ivy in 1950, for NBC. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. starred in a one-off over Radio--The Silent Men (1951). Jimmie Stewart made the solo Radio plunge in 1953 with The Six-Shooter. Van Heflin made his one-off over Radio as Philip Marlowe, Private Detective (1947). Rex Harrison aired his sole recurring Radio vehicle, The Private Files of Rex Saunders in 1951. Helen Hayes aired a series of her own headlining productions between 1935 and 1956. Herbert Marshall's starring solo vehicle, The Man Called X aired for eight years from 1944 to 1952. Victor Jory appeared in two years of Vicks-sponsored adventure dramas between 1940 and 1942 (Dangerously Yours and Matinee Theater). Alan Ladd and Vincent Price also solo'd successfully in Box Thirteen (1947) and The Saint (1947-1951), respectively.
We cite these isolated, mostly solo-outing, big-name Film and Stage star vehicles by comparison with the thousands of Film and Stage adaptation appearances of the era, such as Lux Radio Theatre, The Screen Guild Players series', and the numerous NBC Theater productions, among many others. Those productions found virtually every major Film and Stage star of the era in one--or several--roles throughout the Golden Age of Radio. But it was the one-off dramatic productions that gave Radio listeners a more intimate experience with some of their favorite Stage and Screen actors of the era.
Glenn Ford took the plunge in a solo Radio vehicle with 1950's Christopher London. Ford, known as much for his numerous memorable western Film appearances was just as fondly remembered for his many film noir portrayals.
NBC showcases Glenn Ford in an adventure drama anthology conceived by Erle Stanley Gardner
No Radio novice, Glenn Ford had not yet appeared in his own recurring dramatic Radio showcase. Christopher London gave millions of Glenn Ford fans an opportunity to hear him in a top-notch adventure anthology as Christopher London, a private investigator with an adventurous wanderlust reminiscent of Alan Ladd's Box Thirteen, Herbert Marshall's The Man Called X and Brian Donlevy's Dangerous Assignment--with a few elements of The Shadow and The Green Lama thrown in.
The timing wasn't surprising, given Radio's mounting desperation to retain its listening audience in the face of the exponentially growing Television audience of the era. Many of the one-offs we cited above arrived over Radio at about the same time as Christopher London. Without exception, the big name Stage and Screen actor Radio vehicles of this era were superbly mounted, with Radio's finest supporting actors, directors, producers, engineers and music directors. Christopher London was no exception. William N. Robson directed, Lyn Murray and Van Cleve scored and conducted the musical accompaniment, and West Coast Radio luminaries Joan Banks, Ben Wright, Will Wright, Charlie Lung, Ted deCorsia, Virginia Gregg, Peter Leeds, Barton Yarborough, Alan Reed, Jeanette Nolan, and Stacy Harris appeared in supporting roles throughout the production.
Last and by no means least, the series was created by Erle Stanley Gardner, of long-running Perry Mason fame in Film, Radio and Television, and the creator of the lesser known but thoroughly well conceived A Life In Your Hands (1949) series over Radio. Something of a departure for Gardner, Christopher London's script themes are not courtroom-centered, though two of the surviving exemplars of the series have legal elements contained within the scripts. Two of the circulating scripts were written by Mindret Lord with the season closer written by Bernard Shoenfeld. One of Lord's scripts, anecdotally referred to as The Missing Heiress episode, found its way to Television four years later in Louis Hayward's starring vehicle, The Lone Wolf, as The Emerald Ring epsiode of either 1954 or 1955. This was not an uncommon practice during the early days of Television. The novelty here is the use of essentially the same script in both an Erle Stanley Gardner-created vehicle and a Louis Joseph Vance-created vehicle, within a few years of each other. Mindret Lord penned nine of The Lone Wolf scripts for Television.
For a contemporaneous take on the short-lived series, here's a John Crosby review of Christopher London from the March 15, 1950 edition of the Oakland Tribune:
NBC Attempts Answer to Jack Benny
By JOHN CROSBY
"Christopher London" KNBC 4 p.m. P.S.T. Sundays, is NBC's wistful answer to Jack Benny, the man who roosts opposite him on CBS. As answers go, this is hardly a defiant one. In fact, there is a distinct note of apology in it like those ads in the personal columns: "Come home. All is forgiven."
Still, Christopher London isn't a bad show if you like adventure stuff. It was "created by" as they say on the showErle Stanley Gardner, "the world's most renowned mystery writer." (Mystery writers don't write. They create, like dress designers. Painters paint. Sculptors sculpt. Mystery writers, dress designers and concocters of perfume create. Any other questions?)
Christopher London, the wonder-working hero of the piece, is in private life Glenn Ford, the movie actor. Ford's voice, a marvelous instrument, has apparently been given the full Hollywood treatment; his catarrhs and hesitations and glissandos and tone color are about as perfect as anything you can find outside a saxaphone. The production, a word that covers a multitude of sound effects, is beyond Reproach (which is just the other side of East Bountiful). And the creation, to get back to that word, of each episode sounds as if it took a full six days just like that other Creation.
DIFFICULT TO DISCUSS
I find it difficult to discuss Christopher London much farther than that. These adventure series, which are only faintly tinged with mystery, are adult fairy stories and, like any fairy story, are written within a fairly rigid set of limitations. London (or any of the others) is handsome, single, cynical, terribly accessible, to pretty girls, and given to spouting a stream, of what I gather is consciousness. ("Paris lay under a pall of moonlight. The night was made for romance. It would have been perfect except for one thing. Why did von Austerlitz put strychnine in my grapefruit? It troubled me.")
One thing that troubles me is what London does with the beautiful babes he encounters each week. Last week, there was this ravishing thing, who, in addition to her charms, was the heiress to a fortune estimated in our house at around $100,000,000. Her father was the biggest tycoon in the western world. After getting him safely to the conference of other international tycoons in Venice, after disposing of the Nazis, after assuring that Germany would not be re-armed -- London doesn't fiddle around with small stuff--I left the pair, London and the girl, drifting down the canal in a gondola, feeling awfully intimate.
Next week, there'll be another girl. What happens to the girls he leaves in gondolas? And who pays the fare? The same thing used to bother me years back about Buck Rogers chasing all over outer space with that beautiful damsel. Unchaperoned, too. Where I came from there was a good deal of talk if the girl went as far as Chicago, unchaperoned. If she wanted to go helling around Saturn with some men, she had to take her mother along.
NOT THE ANSWER
"Christopher London," as adventure series go, is written with more than ordinary literacy; it's very well acted and directed. Stuck anywhere else except opposite Jack Benny, it would probably pass unnoticed. But it's hardly the answer to Benny. There probably isn't any answer to Benny.
Just one other rather irritable observation about mystery-adventure stories in general. There comes a time in all of them when the girl and the private eye are locked up in the icehouse; the Nazis are gathering firewood to burn the place down; and the girl breathes -- they never talk in these things, they breathe, the words coming out of their nostrils: "Darling, what are we going to do?"
"Well, we could play Canasta," he remarks brightly.
Just for a change it'd be nice if the man said he didn't know, that it was a pretty darned serious situation, all things considered. But I suppose it would violate all the rules and we can't have that.
Copyright 1950 for The Tribune
Translation (based on his other 100+ reviews we've read): Crosby thought it was passable--but no competition for Jack Benny on Sundays. John Crosby was a severe critic of detective, crime and adventure dramas--even more severe on the 'blood and guts' variety.
The Christopher London character apparently spent some time studying oriental teachings, ala The Green Lama or The Shadow. Though not displaying fanciful powers, as either The Green Lama or The Shadow, London's experiences with oriental philosphy and religion inform his crime detection and investigation methods and approach. London is characterized as sporting a beard in at least one of the circulating exemplars. He's often accompanied by his valet, Ah Song (Charlie Lung), who was apparently with him during his stay at 'The Moon of Yesterday', a Chinese monastery somewhere in the hills of Western China. Oriental elements are also subtly incorporated into the series' theme and underscore by Lyn Murray. Ted de Corsia appears in the--apparently--recurring role of Police Inspector Griffith. De Corsia also introduces the teasers for at least two of the circulating exemplars.
We find the circulating exemplars of Christopher London interesting, well paced, well-scripted and wonderfully produced, performed, and directed. As more exemplars surface we'll no doubt be able to better assess the overall quality of the series. The score interestingly incorporates underscore elements from the Van Heflin run of the Philip Marlowe series as well. We cite these rather more esoteric elements of Radio of the era to illustrate the use--and reuse--of plots, themes, and even musical scores among the hundreds of network offerings of the era. The biggest treat for the listener is Glenn Ford in a recurring dramatic role. Ford appears somewhat uncomfortable with the earlier exemplars, but by the ostensible season closer it's obvious that Ford has both grown into the role and the demands of a recurring Radio portrayal of the era.
In spite of Ford's rare flubs in the role, his mere presence in the series made for compelling Radio. It appears to even out in the end. Some of Radio's most seasoned Radio performers drop a few lines in the circulating exemplars; perhaps in response to the opportunity to appear opposite the legendary Glenn Ford in a radio drama. Listeners of the era also got a combination of Frank Lovejoy in Night Beat, Glenn Ford as Christopher London and Howard Duff and Lurene Tuttle in The Adventures of Sam Spade, back-to-back in several markets for most of the run of Christopher London, which had to have made for an entertaining Sunday--or Monday--evening during the Winter and Spring of 1950.
Unfortunately for Radio listeners, Glenn Ford's growing schedule of Film projects for 1950 curtailed Christopher London to an estimated eighteen or nineteen episodes. The series was replaced by the Ilona Massey vehicle, Top Secret, in the NBC lineup, effective June 12, 1950. Christopher London continued to air in rebroadcasts over NBC affiliates throughout the remainder of 1950.
|The radioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide, newspaper listings.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were newspaper listings.
We have no idea whatsover why the 'credentialed experts of the OTR community' have always referred to--and persist in referring to--Christopher London as The Adventures of Christopher London. As with much of the 'authoritative OTR history' in wide circulation, The Adventures of Chistopher London is a complete canard. No such program title ever aired over American airwaves--unless of course erroneously referred to as such in vintage Radio rebroadcasts of the series. But certainly never within any of the scripts for the series.
Of the three circulating exemplars--and their sequence and dates--only one comes close to the plot of the script:
- The episode anecdotally referred to as "The Missing Heiress" is an almost verbatim treatment of the Mindret Lord Television script for a The Lone Wolf episode referred to as The Emerald Ring. Both of Lord's script treatments--Radio and Television--focus on an emerald ring as the key to finding and identifying the supposed missing heiress at the heart of the plot. The date cited by the overwhelming number of 'otr sources' for this episode bears no resemblence to the only newspaper Radio listings that have surfaced for February 5, 1950 for Christopher London. Those listings refer to a question of suicide or murder, complicated by a large insurance policy at the heart of the plot. We have little faith in either the current dating or sequencing of the episode we refer to as The Adventure of The Emerald Ring at February 5, 1950. We've therefore coded it as such.
- The episode anecdotally referred to as "Price of Sugar" in circulation also seems to miss the mark. Without giving away the plot, the 'price' referred to in the script turns out to be a human price versus a monetary price. This episode is the closest anecdotally titled exemplar in current circulation.
- The episode anecdotally referred to as "Pattern for Murder" bears no resemblance to the script of the circulating exemplar. Again, without giving away the plot, there is no 'pattern' referenced anywhere in the script. The only thing close, without teasing too much of the plot should be "The System" or, as we've anecdotally titled it, 'The System' - A Code for Murder.
We pretend no omniscience in titling the recordings in our collection--nor do we posture as 'credentialed otr experts,' an appellation that frankly makes us groan. But we do actually listen to our recordings for more than two minutes. In the case of Christopher London, all three circulating exemplars are highly entertaining and we've listened to all three of ours from start to finish.
What you see here, is what you get. Complete transparency. We have no 'credentials' whatsoever--in any way, shape, or form--in the 'otr community'--none. But here's how we did it--for better or worse. Here's how you can build on it yourselves--hopefully for the better. Here are the breadcrumbs--just follow the trail a bit further if you wish. No hobbled downloads. No misdirection. No posturing about our 'credentials.' No misrepresentations. No strings attached. We point you in the right direction and you're free to expand on it, extend it, use it however it best advances your efforts.
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[Date, title, and episode column annotations in red refer to either details we have yet to fully provenance or other unverifiable information as of this writing. Red highlights in the text of the 'Notes' columns refer to information upon which we relied in citing dates, date or time changes, or titles.]