I don’t know about you, but I get into classic star moods. Lately my obsession is Dick Powell’s voice on the radio. It’s much easier for me to work listening to old-time radio programs than it is to try to watch movies and so here I am to share a collection of Dick Powell radio detectives.
I say this often when I pay tribute to a star whose voice is smooth as silk…it is made for radio. That is true of Dick Powell who brings a sharp delivery and a wonderful deep noir lilt I cannot get enough of. That is particularly true of Powell’s detectives, the likeable guys with the tough edge and a keen eye for crime. Well, judge it all for yourselves, but I thought I warn you; it is not easy to listen to just one of these at a time.
So, how did it happen that after a successful career in musical comedy, golden-voiced crooner Dick Powell ended up playing what is my favorite private dick? Let me tell you.
Sick of playing boy scouts, as he put it, Powell thought his career was all washed up. He wanted darker roles, a new avenue to display his talents. And so came an opportunity for Powell to play Raymond Chandler’s Private Detective Philip Marlowe in Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet in 1944. Powell is so good in that role that one movie is all it took for a new career to be born.
Dick Powell’s anti-hero Philip Marlowe is my favorite of the movie versions of the character. Marlowe was introduced in the Falcon movie series in the late 1930s and was immortalized by Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep in 1946. However, Powell’s memorable turn in Dmytryk’s movie, led him to play several memorable radio detectives the first of which was his reprisal of Marlowe in the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Murder, My Sweet opposite Claire Trevor in June 1945. You will hear guest producer Irving Pichel reference Dick Powell’s previous stint in “light and frothy” roles prior to the Lux performance.
Murder, My Sweet on Lux….
Immediately following the box office success of Murder, My Sweet, Dick Powell starred in the radio drama Rogue’s Gallery about a detective named Richard Rogue. Rogue’s Gallery is fun. The main character investigates crimes – usually murders – with the help of his alter ego, Eugor (Rogue spelled backwards). We can hear Eugor’s impressive talent for solving crimes in every 30-minute episode as he talks inside Richard Rogue’s head. It is an interesting – and enjoyable – concept. You should know Eugor was voiced by Peter Leeds, a prolific entertainer comfortable on stage, radio, voice work, and TV.
Rogue’s Gallery began as a summer replacement series in 1945 on NBC Radio making Dick Powell a premiere radio voice off-the-bat. His dramatic success in the movie Johnny O’clock (1947) directed by Robert Rossen did not hurt matters any. Powell became a solid dramatic actor thanks to those performances and his turn in Rogue’s Gallery had a lot to do with the show lasting until 1951 even though Powell left after the 1946. He was replaced by a rotating cast that included Barry Sullivan, Chester Morris, and Paul Stewart. For your enjoyment, here is Rogue’s Gallery…
“Blondes Prefer Gentlemen”
“Muder in a Drawing Room”
“The House of Fear”
“Blood on the Sand”
“Anson Leeds is Dead”
“The Triangle Murder Case”
“The Corpse I didn’t Kill”
“Lady With a Gun”
“Where There’s a Will, There’s a Murder”
In 1948, following his departure from Rogue’s Gallery, Powell was offered the role of Johnny Dollar on the radio. Dollar is a wisecracking, smart, tough detective this fan enjoys immensely. The show’s title is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Powell only recorded the audition show. Instead, Powell chose to star as Richard Diamond, Private Detective. After the audition show, Johnny Dollar was played by Charles Russell, and he is good in it. For our purposes though, here is Dick Powell’s sole outing as Johnny Dollar, a freelance insurance investigator “with the action-packed expense account.”
“Milford Brooks III” starring Dick Powell as Johnny Dollar:
Dick Powell’s next stint as radio detective extraordinaire, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, offers a fantastic light-hearted, banter-filled escapade into a world of murder. Created in the same vein as Rogue’s Gallery by Blake Edwards, Richard Diamond, Private Detective debuted on NBC Radio in April 1949. NBC was interested in Dick Powell capturing the same enthusiasm in audiences that Rogue’s Gallery had, and it worked. Here Powell plays former police officer turned private detective Richard Diamond with his brand of fast-talking, wisecracking humor injected into each mystery.
Adding to the fun of Richard Diamond is Powell’s musical prowess. He opens each 30-minute show by whistling the show’s theme, “Leave it to Love” and ends most episodes with Diamond at a piano singing a standard to his girlfriend Helen. It does not get any better than that. Thanks to the musical numbers, Richard Diamond, Private Detective was also known as Richard Diamond, The Singing Detective.
“The Barton Case”
“The Stolen Purse”
“The Bloody Hat Case”
“The Man Who Hated Women”
“The Van Dyke Seance Case”
“The Jerome J Jerome Case”
The $200,000 Bundle”
The Gibson Murder Case”
The Bogus Bills Case”
“The Singing Critic”
“The Ruby Idol Case”
“The Jewel Thief”
“Private Eye Test”
“Mrs X Missing Husband”
“Ice Pick Murder”
“The Misplaced Laundry Day”
“Dead Man’s Letter”
“The Mona Lisa Murder”
“The Bald Head Case”
“The Eight O’Clock Killer” (repeat show)
“The Oklahoma Cowboy Murder Case”
Promoted as part romance, part comedy, part detective series, Richard Diamond has a lot to offer and takes full advantage of Dick Powell’s talents. The supporting cast members are no slouches either. Among the program’s original cast were Ed Begley, Arthur Q. Bryan, Ted DeCorsia, Alan Reed and Virginia Gregg, but the names are legion throughout the show’s run with terrific talent across the board. Richard Diamond, Private Detective also had a run on TV. Produced by Dick Powell’s company, Four Star Television, the series debuted in the summer of 1957 with a pre-Fugitive David Janssen in the title role in the series with Don Taylor playing Richard Diamond in the pilot. The series ran three seasons on CBS and a fourth on NBC.
In 1932, Lloyd Bacon directed Joan Blondell in the mystery comedy, Miss Pinkerton in which Blondell plays a nurse-turned-detective. In 1941, while she was married to Dick Powell, Blondell (sort of) reprised Miss Pinkerton on the radio in a program entitled Miss Pinkerton, Incorporated. In this version Miss Pinkerton inherits a detective agency. Miss Pinkerton, Incorporated was one of the few radio programs, certainly of the detective variety, with a female lead. The program is included here because Dick Powell played Blondell’s husband on the show, which falls into the husband-wife detective subgenre and a comedy at that. Unfortunately, there is not much written about Mis Pinkerton Incorporated nor could I find a good sample of it to share here except for this episode of The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio podcast, which features the one available episode of the program.
For our purposes, that is the gist of Dick Powell’s radio career in the detective-style program during radio’s golden age. Of course, if you prefer Powell the crooner or Powell the romantic comedy lead there is plenty out there to quench that thirst. And Dick Powell appeared in situation comedies on radio as well with many Life of Riley and The Harold Peary Show episodes under his belt and he’s great in all of those, but for me his private eyes are his greatest achievement. Truly one of the all-time best.