Back in the days when the detective genre was still fresh and new and was being pounded out on a daily basis on big trusty Underwoods by all those old literary giants like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Micky Spillane radio was there to bring their stories to life. Radio in the 1940′s and 1950′s was full of trench coated gum shoes, shady shamuses, down on their heels private eyes and just plain old Nosey Parkers. Murder and mayhem on a hundred dollars a day plus expenses set these knight errants out on a weekly basis, each on their respective radio networks, to joust with the scales of justice and maybe entertain a fan or two along the way.
My favorite radio detective from this era was Richard Diamond who was the title character in Richard Diamond, Private Detective. Diamond was played by actor Dick Powell, who started his acting career as a comedic song and dance man, before getting his big movie break portraying Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s Murder, My Sweet. After proving he could play a hard-boiled detective in the movies he brought his many comedic and musical sensibilities to bear on his slightly softer-boiled interpretation of ace radio detective Richard Diamond. The results were wonderful. Each episode began and ended with Powell whistling the radio theme song “Leave it to Love” and usually featured a song from him to his Manhattan socialite sweetheart Helen somewhere in between. Mixed in with all this whistling and singing were plenty of the wise cracks, bullets and punches one expects from the detective genre.
The radio show no doubt also owed its success to the series director and writer Blake Edwards. The same Blake Edwards who would later be responsible for creating television’s Peter Gunn and all those Pink Panther movies. Edwards’s writing was fantastic. Not only did he think of new and ingenious ways to get his lead actor in trouble week after week but he created some really fresh and witty dialogue for him to say along the way. Personally, my favorite thing about Edwards’s writing in the series were all the wonderful supporting characters he created and how he slowly developed them over the series’s run. Because, as most fans of detective fiction know, it’s not the mystery that brings you back for more, it’s the characters you meet along the way.