This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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SAN FRANCISCO'S FINEST: "CANDY MATSON, YUkon 2-8209"
by Jack French, © 2002
(From Radio Recall, October 2002. This is Part 1 of 2.)
"San Francisco is a mad city, inhabited for the most part, by perfectly insane people, whose women are of remarkable beauty."
- Runyard Kipling, 1895
Kipling's observations of the Bay City, written about a half century before the debut of this radio lady detective, certainly describes her well. But although Candy Matson was very attractive, this private eye-full relied more upon her brains, hard work, and good instincts to solve her cases.
"Candy Matson, YUkon 2-8209" began on NBC in June 1949, but its origin goes back much farther. Its creator, Monty Mohn, and star, Natalie Parks, both had roles in "Hawthorne House," which resembled "One Man's Family." But the former show , despite a 10 year run, was always just a regional broadcast.
Candy Matson illustration
by Timothy Wallace
Monty changed his surname to "Masters" and later did the same to Natalie by marrying her. In the summer of 1947, he created a radio comedy series for them, "Those Mad Masters." It lasted only three months, and listening to the two surviving copies will tell you why. The show was routine, fairly predictable, and not that funny.
Two years later, Monty created another show, this time an adventure show with a detective named Candy Matson in the lead. He had planned to play the lead himself, but his mother-in-law convinced him to change the gender of his P.I. so Natalie got the role.
The audition show , recorded in April 1949, was somewhat different from what the series would become. The title was "Candy Matson, EXbrook 2-9994." This audition episode, "Donna Durham's Death," emphasized the sassy and sexy qualities of this lady detective. Her boy friend, Lee Mallard, a police officer, was helpful but lethargic. Candy's sidekick, Rembrandt Watson, was a drunken photographer. Despite its shortcomings, NBC was impressed enough with Monty's crisp dialogue and authentic Bay area references to green-light the project.
By the time the series debuted on June 29, 1949, several improvements had been made. Mallard, the voice of Henry Leff, was more decisive and got a new first name, Ray. The character of Watson, portrayed by Jack Thomas, was sobered up and made into an expert in many arcane topics.
The cast and crew Masters assembled remained nearly the same for the two and one half years this series was on network radio. Most of them had known each other in San Francisco for many years. Leff, in addition to acting, ran the radio production course at San Francisco City College. Lou Tobin, a regular on the show, had worked with Monty and Natalie years prior on "Hawthorne House."
Other minor cast members, used almost as a Candy Matson "rep company", included: Helen Kleeb, John Grober, Mary Milford and Hal Burdick. Monty and "Nat" (as the cast called her) shared in the casting decisions. Occasionally Monty would cast a local personality; in the episode titled "Devil in the Deep Freeze" (Nov 10, 1949), a San Francisco opera star, Dorothy Warenskjold, portrayed herself.
The announcer on the series was Dudley Manlove and the organist was Eloise Rowan. The engineer, Clarence Stevens, recorded every episode as the show was transcribed and aired later. Monty was a stickler for airchecks and he had hopes of syndicating the series to other markets. There were usually two sound effects men, Bill Brownell and his assistant, Julian "Jay" Rendon, who had first been hired at NBC (on guest relations staff) in 1944 when he was 19 years old. He may be the only surviving member of that cast and crew. Recently he wrote me from San Francisco, "(In 1946) the soundman's spot was offered, and though it wasn't the sought-after announcer's job, it did raise my pay by $40 a month, from $195 to $235. Wow!"
Brownell and/or Rendon worked every Candy Matson show. In addition to the standard items on a soundman's truck, they had devices to imitate a cable car, fog horn, buoys, and various pier sounds. The two soundmen worked many shows, including some for ABC, which shared the building with NBC. While their network pay wasn't great, they got paid extra for doing special commercials. Rendon recalled that his two-days on a Gallo Wine commercial got him the equivalent of a month's pay.
Candy Matson, as one of the few remaining NBC and ABC dramatic shows, was produced in the Radio City Building at the corner of O'Farrell and Taylor Streets in downtown San Francisco. This magnificent structure was built by NBC... by mistake! In 1940 NBC authorized the construction of this new edifice to replace its old facility on Sutter Street. At that time, NBC planned equal staffing in their two West Coast offices, Hollywood and San Francisco.
But by April 1942, when the new building was formally dedicated, NBC had transferred most of their Bay personnel to Hollywood. Virtually all of NBC's network programming on the West Coast was now concentrated in Hollywood, with a much smaller crew in San Francisco. So this beautiful building, with its three-story mosaic mural designed by C.J. Fitzgerald, was San Francisco's last gasp as a radio center. But, at least through the 1940s, despite smaller markets, the building was still busy with full day time programming, most of its studios were regularly in use, and both NBC and ABC employed full orchestras.
When Masters brought his production crew into Radio City in 1949, there were seven studios of various sizes on the second floor, shared by the two networks. Studio A was the largest and could accommodate a few hundred audience members on folding chairs. As Candy Matson increased in popularity, and more people came to watch the production, it was moved from Studio B or Studio C over to Studio A.
"...Name any prominent Bay City feature and chances are very likely it was featured in at least one episode..."
The series had several distinctive qualities that made it a superb half-hour. Monty Masters turned out one excellent script after another, each one peppered with real San Francisco streets, landmarks, and geographical sites. Name any prominent Bay City feature and chances are very likely it was featured in at least one episode.
Radio references were sprinkled throughout each program, most written in the script, but a few ad-libs were also contributed. In the episode "Jack Frost" (12-19-49) we hear the following:
Client: "I want you to find a man named Jordan."
Candy: "He's on another network."
Client: "I beg your pardon?"
Candy: "Never mind; please continue."
In other episodes, one character might ask another, "Who writes your dialogue?" in such a manner the radio listener can't be sure this was in the script or a quick ad-lib. The show balanced its treatment of serious crimes, usually homicide, with friendly banter among the leads. Mallard was often trying to get Candy to see a "Tex Acuff" movie, but she hated westerns. Rembrandt was usually broke and humorously got Candy to pay his expenses.
The story-lines, while varied in terms of crime and motive, did have a certain structure its fans enjoyed. Candy usually began the plot line with a contact from a new client. She would later consult with Mallard, who would criticize her choices. Later she and Rembrandt would have a brush with some danger, which Candy would resolve. Mallard would "solve" the case, but usually after Candy did.
(End of Part 1. You can read Part 2 here.)