21st Precinct: The Homecoming (CBS, 1956)
It’s a heartbreaking one for Capt. Cronin (James Gregory), already bedeviled by a major city investigation, who must find a way to tell Waters (Harold Stone) that his beloved Army son was killed in a hit-and-run accident jaywalking off duty, while celebrating his promotion to corporal. The case takes a twist when the suspect (Lawson Kirby)—still grief stricken over the accident—turns up AWOL from the same post, and in New York.
If you thought Dragnet has made the market for no-nonsense police dramas, this one should make Dragnet resemble party time. Whereas Dragnet is so often punctuated by unintentionally wry punch lines that set up the following scenes, 21st Precinct is sparse on wit but abundant in soberly understated drama. Possibly the most underrated crime drama in old-time radio history, and certainly the one with the most understated and underrated introduction. (21st Precinct. It’s just lines on a map of the city of New York. Most of the 173,000 people wedged into the nine-tenths of a square mile between Fifth Avenue and the East River wouldn’t know, if you asked them, that they lived or worked in the 21st. Whether they know it or not, the security of their persons, their homes, and their property is the job of the men of the 21st.)
James Gregory—the second of three commanders during 21st Precinct‘s radio life—would go on to make a distinguished career as a television character actor who will make a sort of homecoming himself, in a regular role as the addled inspector of another New York police precinct, in the 1970s television hit Barney Miller.
Gorman: Santos Ortega. Additional cast: Les Stevens, John Astin, Elaine Ross. Announcer: Hugh Holder. Writer/director: Stanley Niss.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
Vic & Sade: No Trip to Chicago (NBC, 1940)—It looks as though fidgety, giggling Vic (Art Van Harvey) isn’t even close to going to Chicago, if Sade (Bernadine Flynn) can help it, not even on business—she thinks his day’s jaunt is just an angle to get out of going to the Stembottoms’ little house party. Anyone else doing this scenario would absolutely miss the subtleties that made the Gook family so wryly enchanting and their creator so impossible to resist, which is a polite way of saying he probably could have made great radio humour out of reading the Manhattan telephone book, end to end, in three parts if needed. Rush: Bill Idelson. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.
The Great Gildersleeve: Letters to Servicemen (NBC, 1942)—That’s the order of the day for Marjorie (Lurene Tuttle), whom Gildersleeve brings a further request when she’s already up to her elbows in such letters to the men on the fighting fronts, and inevitably the entire household gets brought in on the action—which means ghostwriting for Marjorie, a challenge turned crisis when the one in whom Marjorie is really interested shows up while on leave. Period piece stuff, with almost predictable consequences, but you’ll still find a few laughs. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Hooker: Earle Ross. Announcer: Jim Bannon. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra. Director: Cecil Underwood. Writer: Leonard L. Levinson.
Quiet, Please: Quiet, Please (Mutual, 1948)—The last survivor of a raped, ruined, and destroyed world (Ernest Chappell, who narrates) describes how, in an apparent death wish of hatred, his people destroyed each other and their world in yet another war to end all wars that could have but one final outcome. Additional cast: Floyd Buckley, Vincent Hayworth, Claudia Morgan. Music: Albert Buhrmann. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper. (Note: This recording is the series-ending rerun of the 29 March 1948 episode, with farewell comments from host and director and ABC station identification.)
Suspense: Death Pitch (CBS, 1951)—Known primarily as a comic actor in film and radio, Jack Carson takes a dramatic turn as ambitious Nick Arnold, a circus worker with a murderous dream of owning the big show and four people standing in his way: the two incumbent owners, one of whom is his own brother (Ed Max) and the other a former lion tamer (Francis Chaney), plus the tamer’s long-suffering wife (Georgia Ellis) and their teen son (Richard Crenna). Additional cast: Herb Butterfield, Joseph Kearns, Eddie Marr, Byron Kane. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writer: Walter Newman.