Bold Venture: Passage for Mario Carrada; or, A Row at the Cannery (Syndicated: Frederick Ziv Company, 1951)
Humphrey Bogart’s sonorous voice should have been a radio natural. OK, yes, I’ve said that before. (For that matter, so should Lauren Bacall’s.) The problem, until 1951, is that Bogart is much like many film stars: leery about doing live radio on a regular basis, as opposed to the periodic turn on programs such as Lux Radio Theater and (performing a very credible comic turn) on The Pepsodent Show with Bob Hope in 1941.
According to John Dunning and other sources, tape recording’s arrival and radio acceptance changed Bogart’s mind rapidly enough. He could now do a radio show the way he did his films, take after take until he had it just right, with music and sound dubbed subsequently. Thus do Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall prove receptive enough when a writing team approaches them with an idea for a syndicated radio adventure series.
Bold Venture—the series is released after the Bogarts put a season’s worth of shows on tape, before heading to the title continent for Bogart to make The African Queen—is almost too consciously designed as a radio showcase for the couple’s screen images, right down to the Newsweek critic who will describe it as “a pure Bogie-and-Baby script.”
Bogart is cast as Slate Shannon, who owns a hotel “in the sultry settings of tropical Havana” and a boat which gives the series its title, affording him just the right chances to split the waters on behalf of helping friends or hindering enemies. What makes less sense, to many observers of the time (and to Dunning retrospectively), is just why Sailor Duval, played by Bacall, i cast as Shannon’s ward. As Dunning would phrase it deftly enough, “she sounded quite able to take care of herself and spent the series trying to breach that patented Bogart brushoff when she wanted to get romantic.”
Bold Venture is produced for only a single season’s worth, mostly because the Bogarts’ lives became rather involved even as they’d wrapped the tapings (Bogart, making his next film, Deadline U.S.A., and Oscar-campaigning on behalf of The African Queen; Bacall, pregnant with the couple’s seconed child), but perhaps partially because Bogart was slightly less enthusiastic about the show—which syndicator Frederick Ziv was willing to continue for at least three more years—than Bacall. “I got tired of it,” he would admit in due course. “I never listened to it, but Betty did. She liked to hear her voice.”
At its best there is a certain arch wit in Bold Venture’s writing, not to mention just a few hints of self-parody; a listener can make a parlour game out of isolating which and how many elements of the Bogarts’ film career to date were integrated in one or another way. (The boat itself is just a beginning; the Bogarts are avid sailors to the day Humphrey Bogart will die.) Not exactly dullards in their offscreen lives, the Bogarts deliver the show’s wit almost without seeming to have to think too hard about it or try too hard to do it. You can indeed accept Bold Venture as something just shy of a downright parody of the radio adventure, even if the calypso singer bridging each act with warbling summations of each show’s storyline to its midpoint is just a little too much.
At least one critic, however, the venerable John Crosby of the New York Herald-Tribune, isn’t necessarily pleased by the “the dialogue employed by” Bogart and Bacall and just about the entire cast, which he calls “so confoundingly cryptic that you may fall to wondering just who is committing mayhem on whom and why.”
Tonight: The son of a murdered Cuban politician wants revenge for his father’s death; journalist Johnny Thomas (Sheldon Leonard), who befriended father and son alike, reaches out to Shannon (Bogart)—who also knew and admired the young man’s father—with $2,000 and a proposition to bring the younger man into Havana, where his father’s enemies may not necessarily have him an unmarked man. Sailor: Lauren Bacall. King: Jester Hairston. Inspector LaSalle: Nestor Paiva. Additional cast: . Music: David Rose. Director: Henry Haywood. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: Stanley and Livingstone (NBC, 1939)—The troupe (Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, Don Wilson) takes a whack at satirizing the film story of the reporter and the explorer—after they get finished dealing with Dennis’s imperious, battleaxe mother (Verna Felton) and bandleader Kay Kyser. Announcer: Don Wilson. Music: Mahlon Merrick with the Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Ed Beloin, Bill Morrow.
Fibber McGee & Molly: Gildersleeve’s Diary (NBC, 1940)—Curiosity merely stokes the Snoop of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) when he finds the unlikely treasure after Gildersleeve’s (Harold Peary) maid carelessly discarded it, and even the usually discreet Molly (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny) has a small thrill over the prospect of reading the big blowhard’s private blusterings before he figures out it’s disappeared in the first place. Nick Depopolous: Bill Thompson. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writer: Don Quinn.
The Great Gildersleeve: A Job Contact (NBC, 1944)—When not trying to move Leroy (Walter Tetley) toward diligent music study and Marjorie (Louise Erickson) toward better chore habits, and still smarting over being dumped as Summerfield water commissioner after the new mayor moved a cousin into the job, Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) ponders both a fresh water crisis at home—prompting rounds of calls from people who think he’s still the commissioner—and a possible new job running a factory preparing to revert to civilian production. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Leila: Shirley Mitchell. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Claude Sweeten. Director: Frank Pittman. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.
The Great Gildersleeve: Congressman Gildersleeve (NBC, 1947)—Blasted awake from a pleasantly romantic dream, Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) gets up in a strikingly good mood that gets turned into a lament over life passing him by and, after a conversation with Peavey (Richard LeGrand) and a challenge from Hooker (Earle Ross), a yearning to run for the House. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Marjorie: Mary Lee Robb. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Bessie: Pauline Drake. Announcer: John Wald. Music: Jack Meakin. Writers: Elliott, Andy White.
The Whistler: A Case for Mr. Carrington (CBS, 1947)—A young man’s struggle with his father over control of a Jamaican sugar plantation proves only too tempting to an American (possibly Gerald Mohr) who’s bought into the plantation, wants to keep his fiancée (possibly Betty Lou Gerson) from breaking their engagement over his lack of dividends from his investment thus far, and has attracted the attention of a Jamaican police inspector who may have given him a motive to do the barely unthinkable. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Whistling: Dorothy Roberts. Sound: Gene Twombly, Ross Murray. Director: George Allen. Writer: J. Donald Wilson, possibly Harold Swanton. Note: This episode would be re-performed in 1952; this recording was made from a broadcast by Dallas public radio.
Suspense: Log of the Marne (CBS, 1951)—Ray Milland delivers an understatedly tense performance as a British naval officer ordered to command and rescue a crippled British gunboat rescuing British subjects under heavy siege from Communist ships on the Yang-tze during the war to overthrow the Nationalists, when the ship is unable to gain safe passage down river unless he obeys Communist demands that he admit to aggression the ship didn’t commit. Strikingly effective, considering the contortions involved in changing names and historical condensation. Fraser: Ben Wright. Additional cast: Joseph Kearns, Charles Davis, Antony Ellis, Jack Kruschen, Raymond Lawrence, William Johnstone. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Lucien Morowick, Lud Gluskin. Sound: Berne Surrey. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writer: Gil Brown, adapted from the book by Laurence Earle.