Today’s date in history was the first time that Sam Spade was broadcast on the radio. On July 12, 1946, CBS radio set in motion the series as a Friday night special. When the audience heard it they enjoyed it so much and the response was so great that the network decided to make it a recurring part of their fall lineup starting September 29 of that year.
From that day onward until 1949, Sam Spade had found his home on the Sunday night radio service. The original sponsors for the show were the makers of Wildroot Cream Oil. Howard Duff was selected to star in the original title role. After his departure from the show Stephen Dunne replaced him as Spade. This final star remained with the show until 1950.
Sam Spade replaced the ever popular Maltese Falcon as a major radio crime show. Sam was a distinctive San Francisco detective created by none other then William Spier. For those into Old Time Radio, you will recognize the name from the thriller radio series entitled “Suspense”. Spier acted as the editor, director and producer of the show. He was a lifelong radio veteran who had entered the profession during radio’s early years in 1929. Upon accepting the position for the Sam Spade series, Spier enlisted the talents of Ann Lorraine and Bob Tallman for weaving the various tales of intrigue.
When selecting the actors to feature in the radio show, Spier was very much impressed with the tough voice qualities displayed by young Howard Duff. During Duff’s senior years in Roosevelt high school he had decided that the sound of the audience’s applause was overwhelming and he became determined to switch from art to an acting career. He worked with several of the local theatres until he finally made his mark in the radio world. When America entered the war, Duff was employed in the Armed Forces Radio services. His position as a war correspondent was held by him for 4 long years. The character of Sam Spade quickly launched him into the national spotlight.
When Spier created the character of Sam Spade he did so in such a manner as to provide him with several easily identifiable traits. Followers of the show will readily notice that Spades favorite means of transportation was the common streetcar. In those days he could go just about anywhere for a single dime. He was known for his disliked of taxi cabs and his favorite drink was cheap alcohol. Each week you would be greeted by Sam opening his desk draw and clanging glasses together as he began his dictation of the story line. He wasn’t a man with expensive taste in drinks for those clamoring glasses more then likely held a bit of Old Granddad or some other bargain basement booze. He would dictate each case carefully to his secretary Effie Perrine who recorded each word with total clarity. The episodes read like a report all signed and dated awaiting delivery.
Howard Duff left the show in 1950 making the last episode of Sam Spade broadcast on September 17, 1950. Although the show continued for another couple of months with Steve Dunne as the new Sam Spade it failed to achieve the greatness that it once held.
Being a fan of Old Time Radio I would like to offer readers of this article a free MP3 copy of the first Sam Spade program. Merely visit my link below to download it. I particularly enjoy listening to these radio programs as I drive long distances across the country. I hope you too will enjoy these long forgotten episodes.
Anniversary of Sam Spade Radio Broadcast
By Joseph Parish
Copyright @2010 Joseph Parish