1943-07-07 Case of the Switched Plates

These notes were originally compiled more than a decade ago and enhanced now and then. Many were posted on Cobalt at least two server crashes ago.

I've wanted to work on this again for a long time but Suspense got in the way. Casey is my favorite series! I know, it's hard to believe. My first love back in the 1970s was comic books... but I could never afford to collect comics back then... I had just gone to a convention and Spiderman #1 was $110! (a pristine copy is valued at more than $1 million now)

To appreciate Casey and have it the right context and right expectations, you have to think of it as a 1940s comic book, written for everyone to read. There was just enough romantic tension to make the young boys not want to read that mush but they had to keep going to figure out the mystery. The young girls wanted the romance to lead to something... some day. The police were myopic and bungling, and the comic book reader, and in this case the listener, figures the mystery out before they do. It's all so satisfying, and so light, with no deep drama, and many chuckles along the way. And Mom and Dad were happy, because crime did not pay.

The series is fascinating in its minor defects. There are often situations of bad continuity, horrible over-acting, and a cough from the audience at an inopportune time.

Our series background begins...

Casey was derived from the George Harmon Coxe pulp character of "Flashgun Casey" that appeared in Black Mask magazine. This is not the place to analyze the pulp character... others have done that and done it well. No one seems to have researched the series in great detail from an episode by episode perspective. That's what I will focus on as we make the posts.

Details about that can be found online at
* Thrilling Detective http://www.thrillingdetective.com/flashgun.html
* Radio Spirits background by Elizabeth McLeod http://www.radiospirits.com/email/casey_crime_article070912.asp?pcode=N07NC002&source=rsnews071012
* The book by pulp expert Randy Cox and the late and legendary OTR collector Dave Siegel is available from BearManorMedia but there are often used copies that can be found online. http://www.bearmanormedia.com/flashgun-casey-crime-photographer-from-the-pulps-to-radio-and-beyond-by-j.-randolph-cox-and-david-s.-siegel
* Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casey,_Crime_Photographer

Flashgun Casey was popular before it went to radio, and there were two movies with the character.
* 1936 movie Women are Trouble with Stu Erwin https://youtu.be/VA_QQ5pr9KA
* 1938 movie Here's Flash Casey https://youtu.be/FCY9hjbZuME
The films have little relation to the Casey that we came to know and love.

There were a few attempts to bring Casey to TV, but those will be covered later. They failed. There is one quote from Darren McGavin, who starred in the series for a while, and it is in every write-up of the television series:
"The cast of Crime Photographer didn't go down fighting. They took off for the hills. It was so bad that it was never re-run, and that's saying something when you recall the caliber of television programs in those days."

Before anyone starts the objection of calling it "Casey, Crime Photographer," and not "Crime Photographer" or something else because the show had other names in its run, I am stating categorically that is the way this thread always refer to the series. That's what everyone knows it as. It's kind of like saying "Jack Benny" instead of "The Jell-O Show with Jack Benny" or "The Lucky Strike Program." Everybody knows what "Casey, Crime Photographer" refers to, just like everybody knows what "Jack Benny" refers to.

If someone wants to volunteer to keep track of the names that are used beyond the obvious "Flashgun Casey, Press Photographer" and "Casey, Press Photographer" and their starting and ending dates, that would make a worthwhile contribution to this research.

The Anchor-Hocking period -- the best of the series -- August 1946 to March 1948

Casey was a sustaining show, meaning it had no national advertising sponsor until Anchor Hocking Glass came along in around Fall of 1946. Sustaining shows allowed networks to keep their affiliates together by supplying them programming, with the hope of attracting a national sponsor. Once A-H entered the picture, the overall quality of the show improved.

Finally the show had a full, lush orchestra, supplemented by the Blue Note Cafe's jazz pianist, Herman Chittison. It was also performed in front of a live audience, so you can often hear someone coughing in the background now and then. Staats Cotsworth, star of the series, wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times about the pros and cons of live radio audiences for dramas. I'll post that sometime.

Casey is not held in as high regard as radio classics, but I believe that most of the A-H run was some of the best and most endearing of popular radio. It had quirky characters, a romantic tension, and a lightheartedness that made the whole show quite enjoyable.

Herman Chittison's piano in the background made the Blue Note Cafe popular, and many restauranteurs began to use the name. Despite the talk of nefarious criminal behavior being acted out in that week's drama, Chittison's piano in the background was always cheery or romantic. Aspiring jazz musicians used to tune in just to hear Chittison.

Most of the Casey shows that survive are from the A-H run. We're lucky to have so many shows from a single period, but we only have glimpses of the others and how different they were. Research in the archives of Billboard magazine indicate that A-H was not satisfied with the sales results of their sponsorship. Toni was the next sponsor, with a strategy to aim the show toward women, with the criminal activities and violence toned down. It also seemed that the budget for production was cut with the shift of sponsors. Thankfully, those years would be over, and the Philip Morris Company picked up sponsorship and the shows returned to "normal."

The Toni years were a sign of how radio's role in media was changing. It was 1948, which was a pivotal year in the adoption of television, and radio ad dollars started to move to the newer medium. The series just seems strange with Toni or Phillip Morris commercials after such a long A-H run. But we have to remember that it seems like a long run to collectors because so many of the shows that exist are from the A-H period. We have to remember that for most of the show's broadcast life, A-H was not the sponsor, but those two years were the best in terms of the show's production values.

And now the star of the new CBS series, FRANK LOVEJOY!

Billboard 1943-06-26
Casey, Crime Photographer Billbo13

We know that Matt Crowley appeared as Casey in the first episode on the date stated because we have a recording of that show. What happened to Lovejoy?

We don't know for sure, but the 1943-08-28 Billboard indicates that he was in a play in Boston. The Snark was a Boojum, adapted from the novel by Richard Shattuck, opened there with plans for a Broadway opening in September. This may mean that not long after the Flashgun Casey announcement, Lovejoy decided to appear in the play. At the time of the broadcast, he could have been tied up in rehearsals in Boston. His wife, Joan Banks, was also in the production, and that may have been a reason behind the change. It also gave them a reason to spend the summer in Cape Cod, where the rehearsals and previews were.

The play did not open well in Boston. Lovejoy, however, was mentioned as being a standout in the cast, despite his low billing.

The show did eventually get to Broadway, opening September 1 and closing after 5 performances. The reviewer in Billboard called it “a mess of whimsy, stumbling around between comedy that doesn't jell and melodrama that doesn't chill, and goes nowhere fast in all directions.”

Details of the production are at the Internet Broadway Database http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=1326
The play was written by Richard Shattuck, a pseudonym of author Dora Richards Shattuck.

We may never know for sure if this was Lovejoy's choice, or if CBS decided to use Crowley as Casey instead, for some other reason. But Crowley seems to be a temporary casting fill-in.

It is plausible, however, that Lovejoy could have made the decision to appear on stage rather than on radio. At that time, radio acting was looked down upon. It is ironic that Staats Cotsworth  wrote an opinion piece defending radio against this bias in The New York Times of October 6, 1946. So it is conceivable that faced with the choice, if he had one, that Lovejoy could have preferred a Broadway stage role.

As we know, Lovejoy would eventually have a “newspaper role” in Night Beat as reporter Randy Stone, the truly definitive portrayal of a fictional newspaper reporter on radio.

Chester Renier was another change in the show, announced as the producer, rather than Bob Shayon. There are no cast announcements in the recording of the show.

First episode: Case of the Switched Plates

The only recording we have of this episodes is from scratchy discs, and they sound like glass 78s. My guess is that these are only 5 minutes or so per side. It's not in the best sound overall, but some sections are in are much better than others. There is a good chance it was an aircheck or a separate recording for potential presentations to ad agencies in search as sponsors or to be played to evaluate the casting and production.

This first episode is not up to the kind of Casey program that would be common in most of the A-H run, but seems to be truer to the pulp character. This stars Matt Crowley as Casey (although I can't remember hearing his name). I was surprised that John Gibson is there as Ethelbert, which means he was there for the entire radio run. The casting as Jim Backus as Casey was just around the corner (no recordings exist), but as we know, the series got going only when Staats Cotsworth replaced him.

Ethelbert, the bartender, is also identified in this episode as having the responsibility of being the Blue Note's bouncer. The character was never described as having that task in any other circulating shows. The Ethelbert we know of later shows would probably call on someone else to handle that. Ethelbert is noted as reading high class publications like The Atlantic Monthly, The American Mercury, and The New Republic. This is a sarcastic comment by Casey since those publications are beyond Ethelbert's intellect. He tells Casey that he is reading One World, a bestselling book in 1943. Wikipedia describes it as “a travelogue written by Wendell Willkie... a document of his world travels and meetings with many of the then-Allies heads of state as well as ordinary citizens and soldiers... Willkie also discusses the need for some sort of World government.” Willkie ran for president against FDR in 1940 and lost, but FDR would later make him an “ambassador-at-large” where he traveled the world and compiling his travels in his book. Willkie died in 1944.
One World https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_World_(book)
Wendell Willkie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendell_Willkie

This early Casey has a bit of a cynical nature to him, and makes another reference to the literature of the time as the alibi of one of his fellow photographers as being at home reading Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. It was a bestseller in 1943 by actress Cornelia Otis Skinner and journalist Emily Kimbrough about their post-college trip through Europe. It would become a movie in 1944. Literary references disappear later on in the series. We get the sense that Cotsworth's Casey is not as literate as Crowley's, that his streetsmarts far outweigh his booksmarts.
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Hearts_Were_Young_and_Gay

Burke, the editor of the paper, has a larger role than would be in later parts of the series. His role was so diminished that he would be at the other end of a one-sided phone conversation with Casey, so they would not even have to cast an actor that week. As the series evolved, Captain Logan would take over the role as Casey's foil. In this episode, however, Logan is identified by his last name. In Clue in the Clouds he is called Lieutenant Logan, same as the Logan of George Harmon Coxe's Flashgun Casey short stories, but Logan does not appear in the episode. Burke is the one who contacts Logan to ask for help in solving the crime. Later episodes have Casey contacting Logan directly, and with Logan often tagging along for the ride in their adventures. The role was so important to the series that in Busman's Holiday, in which Cotsworth was not available to appear likely due to illness, Logan is the lead character in the story.

One interesting plot device in this episode (and also in the circulating Clue in the Clouds) is that Casey talks to Ernie, the pianist, with a discussion that leads to Casey putting together the solution of the crime. It must have been common in the early episodes. These are the only two Casey episodes in circulation with these scenes.

I cannot find any official mention of who "Ernie" was, it is likely that it was Herman Chittison himself. This was mentioned in a footnote of a "bio-discography" of Thelonious Monk. Evidently, Monk and other aspiring pianists would listen to the Casey show just to hear Chittison and then try to mimic his style. In the Anchor Hocking run, Chittison is clearly identified, but had no speaking parts of note. Chittison was on the show for most of its run, except for the mid-50s revival when he was replaced by Teddy Wilson. But as far as “Ernie” goes, it is unclear if it's a recording of Chittison playing live in the background in these early episodes or if it is a recording, if he was playing and acting at the same time, or if another actor was playing the Ernie role while Chittison was playing in the background.

Casey creator George Harmon Coxe was involved in the scripting of this first episode. It is not clear if he was deeply involved in others. In the seventh episode, most of the scriptwriting chores were turned over to Alonzo Deen Cole. We don't know if Cole used “Ernie” in his scripts because there are no circulating Cole shows until three years later, that being The Reunion (episode #137). It is likely that he did for a while, as Ernie appears in Clue in the Clouds, written by Charles Holden, but was probably phased out not long thereafter by Cole. In Cox & Siegel's Flashgun Casey, there is a script reprint of the sixty-eighth episode of 1944-10-24 Hanged by the Neck and Ernie does not appear, nor does he appear in a second script in the book.

This characterization of Casey by Matt Crowley is much different than Cotsworth, as mentioned earlier. The characterization is sarcastic and dismissive. By the time Cotsworth gets the role, Casey is often getting into trouble for sending the police (and Logan) off into dead ends with the wrong solutions to the crimes, and is frequently humiliated by Logan, before solving it in the end, much to Logan's dismay. He often gets down on himself for not being educated or for his position in life as a poorly paid photographer employed at the whim of an editor. The contrast of the later Casey with the Casey of this episode is rather stark.

The differences between the initial Casey and that of later episodes is most likely the changes made by Cole once he took firm hold of the show. The Flashgun character is that of Coxe's pulp creation. The Casey we know best as collectors has been changed by Cole to most likely make the character more appealing to a broader audience. Look at the timing: the first show appears in July 1943. Cole claims that he was brought in about six weeks into the run to "fix" the series. That would make it mid-August by the time he takes control of the program, probably with the idea of the much larger post-Labor Day radio audience in mind.

The character is referred to as “Flashgun” in this episode, and not “Casey.” By the time of Clue in the Clouds, the reference is always as “Casey.” And we almost never hear his first name, Jack.

This episode was written by Ashley Buck, who worked on a short-lived soap opera in 1941 We Are Always Young, and also worked on Tennessee Jed.

Matt Crowley appeared in Buck RogersJungle Jim, Mark TrailSuperman, You Are There, Dimension X (The Lost Race and Universe), Big Town, The Chase, Inheritance, and X Minus One (No Contact, Green Hills of Earth, and Martian Death March"). He is interviewed in the Buck Rogers episode of Whatever Became Of? https://otrrlibrary.org/OTRRLib/Library%20Files/W%20Series/Whatever%20Became%20Of/Whatever%20Became%20of%20670214%20Buck%20Rogers.mp3.
Crowley would appear on the TV soap opera Edge of Night in 1962; Cotsworth would appear in 1964. For all of those credits, you almost never hear Crowley's name mentioned as one of radio's top actors.

Casey 43-07-07 001 The Case of the Switched Plates [Flash-Gun Casey] (disc noise in some portions).mp3
Degoo https://cloud.degoo.com/e/drive-zry4v_grhget
hubiC http://ovh.to/U5zwq8E

Casey, Crime Photographer 1943-037

Casey, Crime Photographer 1943-038

1943-07-07 Tampa FL Times
Thanks to a helpful friend in OTRdom, this is a review from Variety
that gives some details about the cast....

1943-07-14 Variety
Casey, Crime Photographer - Page 8 1943-045