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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EQ & The Norths
by Jack French © 2009
(From Radio Recall, February 2009)
When Ellery Queen tied with Richard & Frances Lockridge’s Mr. and Mrs. North in 1946 for the Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama, both network series were very popular.
The Adventures of Ellery Queen began on CBS in 1939, scripted by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, who created this sleuth in their 1929 novel. (In the books, Ellery Queen is both the hero and the nom de plume of Dannay and Lee.) For the radio version, a lady associate, Nikki Porter, was added. Dannay and Lee wrote every script until 1943, with subsequent assistance from Tom Everitt and Anthony Boucher. Years later, Lee’s son, Rand, noted that his father and mother, Kaye Brinker, first met in 1942 when she was playing “Nikki.” CBS ended the series in May 1948. Only 18 audio copies are in circulation.
The first Mr. and Mrs. North mystery novel debuted in 1940 and their radio series began in 1942 on NBC. It would air, off-and-on, as a romantic mystery until 1955,usually with Alice Frost and
Joseph Curtin in the leads. While the Lockridges scripted many of the programs, they also relied upon writers Hector Chevigny, Jerome Epstein, and Louis Vittes. About 30 audio copies survived; most are AFRS broadcasts.
Both crime dramas were also TV series. Ellery Queen was televised by the Dumont Network (1950-51), ABC (1951-52), and NBC (1958-59 and 1975-76.) Five different actors played Ellery, including Jim Hutton. The Norths were less successful, lasting only eighteen months (1952-54) with Barbara Britton and Richard Denning as Pam and Jerry. (They also took over the radio roles in 1954.) The Lockridges were evidently impressed with Britton; in a 1955 short story they gave Pam the maiden name of “Britton.”
The influence of both series continued for decades on television. The detail-oriented sleuth, Ellery Queen, was replicated in various versions, including Columbo (unkempt) , Murder, She Wrote (female) and Barnaby Jones (geriatric.) Romantic TV crime-solving couples, akin to the Norths, were present in Hart to Hart, Remington Steele, McMillan & Wife, and Moonlighting. (Tough guy Bruce Willis made his debut opposite Cybill Shepherd in the latter on ABC in 1985.)