radio plays were written by the cousins with great sense for new media. Many of which are lost. In a
rare development, the
character of Ellery Queen was adapted to radio by its creators, as former advertising writers, knew the promotional power of radio. The authors brought to the new medium the "challenge to the reader" from their earlier books. This said, in essence, "You now have all the clues; can you solve the crime?" On radio, this took the form of the fictional Ellery stopping the action and delivering the challenge in person to the listener at home and, in some incarnations, to a celebrity sleuth there in the studio. The Queen radio show ran in one form or another on CBS, NBC, and ABC. Scripts were by Dannay and Lee, and later by Lee assisted by others, most notably Anthony Boucher. During the 1940's EQ wrote a large number of radio plays. The Adventures of Ellery Queen started on radio in 1939 and lasted until 1948. EQ was apparently the pioneer author to move from prose fiction into the radio drama. Their value has to be seen in comparison with other radio plays. The story format simply isn't up to the depth a novel can reach. What makes them irresistible to a Queen fan is that almost each and everyone of the radio plays recycled 'Queen ideas' or contained typical elements which were later re-used in the Queen-novels. The Adventure of the Murdered Moths is collection of the greatest radio plays by Ellery Queen. Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee won an unprecedented 5 Edgars.
n November 27. 1932
listeners could tune in on the WABC-
Columbia program "America's Grub Street Speaks", it was the third episode of a new series of, initially, six broadcasts over the Columbia Broadcasting System from 6 to 6:15 p. m. each Sunday. Tom L. Stix brought literary celebrities before the microphone and discussed in an informal manner the subjects and problems which interest them most. This time you could hear three mystery story writers attempt to solve a real mystery. Captain John Ayers head of the New York Police Department's Missing Persons Bureau stated the known facts in a case his department has not been able to solve. Barnaby Ross, Ellery Queen and 'The Diplomat' tried to find the answer. These three all appeared incognito and on the promotional material for this broadcast we see them wearing masks. Lee of course was Barnaby Ross, Dannay was Ellery Queen and 'The Diplomat' was John Franklin Carter. Carter was a writer under under several pen names, ('Unofficial Observer','Jay Franklin',...). who in 1930 wrote a series of detective novels about a diplomat-detective, Dennis Tyler under the name "Diplomat". Each writer took one possible approach and worked on that exclusively. As the NYT article puts it "The test will probably not proof anything, but it ought to be amusing". But the resultant theories were so very intriguing, and the idea was such a success that Stix was encouraged to repeat it. Some weeks later "Diplomat" was called to Washington to attend to affairs of state, and Edwin Balmer, editor of The Red Book, took his place. (When Last Seen, Sat. Jan 14, 1933 WABC 6:00-6:15 pm). Mr. Balmer was formerly a police reporter in Chicago, and has several real murder solutions to his credit, besides a number of detective stories, so he made a formidable opponent for Messrs. Ross and Queen. It got both Dannay and Lee in the media and this had more to do with there intentions of playing out their Barnaby Ross/Ellery Queen parts (which was mainly about drawing attention to their books) rather than really wanting to get into radio.
If you tuned in to WOR on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 1932 at 9:15 pm you could hear Robert Littell interview "Ellery Queen, Author" (WOR 9:15-9:30 pm). Again since this is during their 'masked' period it is likely Manfred took on the assignment. For their real fictional work to be heard on radio we still have to wait some 7 years...
n 1938 the cousins were experimenting with different media. Both their efforts in theater and Hollywood had gone astray and fortunately for them an other medium was to come to full bloom... it came looking for them. Ellery Queen was a guest along with Donald Budge, Benny Leonard, James Braddock, ... in For Men Only (NBC 38-05-2) where amid a number of talk an drama subjects guest appeared. The participation was more than likely intended as publicity for their books, their biggest move with regards to effective use of the medium radio was soon to follow.
George Zachary, a young executive at CBS was playing with the idea of an hour long detective where the listeners could match their wits with the leading character in solving the riddle before he could. He was searching for the writers who could come up with a weekly script for such a series... At that time radio had his heroes e.g. The Shadow but no 'real' detectives. Zachary was not really an expert on detective fiction and started working his way through several libraries. Only after 'some 200 stories' he stumbled upon his first Queen-story. There he found his idea of 'challenging' the listener in print. He made the cousins a modest offer of $25 a week in exchange for which they had to provide an hour long radio mystery on a weekly basis! It's probably wise to deduce that the possibility of millions of listeners did the trick. They were given the chance to learn the skills of this new profession by writing scripts for two existing series, sadly without credit nor pay. One of these was Alias, Jimmy Valentine (1937-1939), remotely based on an O.Henry short story about a reformed safecracker and featuring Bert Lytell in the leading role. The cousins supposedly wrote scripts on a weekly basis. Only one episode is written by them for sure: the episode aired on November 21,1938. Probably their last work for the series. The other series was the illustrious' 'Shadow'. When asked by Francis M.Nevins Dannay didn't remember which scripts he and Manny helped creating, nor did he remember who played the Shadow at the time they were broadcast (Orson Welles or Bill Johnstone). It has become clear that they have contributed to the first five seasons of the Bill Johnstone-era. Edith Meiser, script editor for the series, hired the cousins because "...she had read their stories, and was all too happy having them working for us. We handed them model scripts and they went to work..." (William Nadel) After a nice piece of deduction Nadel narrows the episodes down to the following 8 to 11 scripts:
"Shyster Payoff" 11-06-38
"Black Rock" 11-13-38
"Fountain of Death" 11-27-38 *
"Murder in E Flat" 12-04-38
"Murder by Rescue" 12-11-38 *
"Give Us This Day" 12-25-38 not available for examination*
"Valley of the Living Dead" 01-22-39
"The Ghost of Captain Bayloe" 02-05-39
"Friend of Darkness" 02-19-39
"Sabotage by Air" 03-05-39
"Can the Dead Talk?" 03-19-39
* Syracuse University Library has script copies
Manny also appeared in This is New York,
(Feb. 26, 1939, 8:00 to 9:00 pm )
designed to give listeners a grasp of the real New York through
interviews with famous, ordinary and obscure people who live and work
there. The episode had the following items: "Ellery Queen"
Solves a murder; Julia Sanderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, Deems Taylor.
over at CBS was gathering his team. Dannay and
Lee had stepped up to the challenge to provide a weekly Ellery Queen script for which they earned $350/script. Ellery Queen was to be portrayed on the air by Hugh Marlowe, and his contract specifically stated that he was not allowed to appear on any other programs. Also in an attempt to attract a more female audience, Dannay, Lee and Zachary added a new character to the stories: Ellery's secretary Nikki Porter. Auditions were held and Marlowe remembers with a wince he recommended Shirley Booth as his leading lady, but Marion Shockley, whom Zachary married, won the part. The analogue to the 'Challenge of the Reader' was to stop the action and put the crucial question to a panel of well known guest stars or later listeners. Zachary produced and directed thirty-four hour-long radio drama's which were broadcast between June 1939 and February 1940. The program ran initially on a sustaining basis (without a sponsor) as a summer replacement for The Screen Guild Theater. Studio executives were initially not impressed by the program. They changed their view when due to a water hose burst in the transmitter cooling system at a Chicago station WBBM 'The Mother Goose Murders' was forced off the air 9 minutes before the end of the program. The number of listeners who called in was so great it not only remained on the air but also garnered its first sponsor Gulf Oil. Not much survived the years apart from the 'translations' of the stories to other formats. After this period the format changed to half an hour drama's.To prevent the plot leaking out Zachary would keep the final part a secret even to the actors who played in it. At the last dressed rehearsal all was revealed and it didn't take long for the actors to organize a pool, the winner being the one who unmasked the culprit. Ted de Corsia (Velie) and runner-up Robert Strauss (Doc Prouty) were the most frequent winners. For its first few months, the show's armchair guests (at $25-$50 a case) were not that frequent winners.