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I Love a Mystery - A Personal Look by William FoulkI began listening to radio back in the thirties, probably about the time I first learned to walk. Born in 1933, I arrived just in time for the Glory Days of Old Time Radio. Softball, fishing, swimmimg all took a back seat to my interest in those magical characters coming over the airwaves. As time passed, I enjoyed many favorites -- Jack Armstrong, The Lone Ranger, Capt. Midnight, and The Shadow. However, my all-time favorite was Carlton E. Morse's unforgettable I Love a Mystery.
From Issue #2, January, 1992
The first great tragedy of my young life occured sometime during the early forties. Doc Long and Jack Packard, two of the program's main protagonists, had gotten into trouble, as usual. They had been captured by some sinister force and were locked up in a jail cell in a spooky castle. Every day, a guard came into feed them, accompanied by a vicious German Shepherd. I was very afraid of German Shepherds at that time as our next door neighbor owned one. It used to lunge at me, barking and snarling at the end of its chain. Jack and Doc were made of sterner stuff, however. They feared neither man nor beast and soon began breaking up an old chair for clubs. It quickly became apparent that they were going to give that guard and his police dog what for. We had to wait for the next program to hear the outcome, and to this day I still don't know what happened. The next day we moved from our home in Pittsburg, PA, to a rural area twenty miles away. One of the first things that we discovered was that we had no electricity. The West Pennsylvania Power Company was never known for its fast service and it took them a whole year to put in a couple of poles and hook us up. At first it didn't matter much to me. Kerosene lamps were romantic and who cared about the refrigerator or vacuum? It took me just a few hours to care. That was when I sat down in front of our old Philco and turned it on. Needless to say, nothing happened. I'm still wondering how they got out of that one.
After a few weeks, my Dad rigged up a crystal radio that needed no electricity. We received only a faint signal through earphones and could only get KDKA, Pittsburg. It carried nothing but soap operas. I heard many of these over the years, Lorenzo Jones, Stella Dallas, and When a Girl Marries. Not one of them interested me and I was very happy indeed when my one year stay in purgatory ended and the power was finally turned on. I never missed another I Love a Mystery serial again.
I Love a Mystery was first heard on NBC's Pacific Coast outlets on January 16, 1939. The three main characters were Jack Packard, Doc Long, and Reggie York. They first met while fighting the Japanese in China and then began the A-1 Detective Agency in Hollywood, CA. There were a number of actors, but the best known were Russell Thorson as Jack Packard, Jim Boles as Doc Long, and Tony Randall as Reggie York.
The Agency's beautiful young secretary, Jerry Booker, was played by Gloria Blondell, Joan's sister. Mercedes McCambridge played a variety of roles as well. Carlton E. Morse also wrote and produced the enormously successful program, One Man's Family. He often interchanged actors between the two shows.
Jack Packard was the brains of the ILAM trio, always a logical thinker and solver of mysteries. He could always be counted on for a level-headed response to any emergency. Doc Long was Morse's best character. He was a likable, red-headed Texas boy, given to chasing women and playing poker. He spoke with a home-spun Texas accent and his colorful speech was replete with sayings, such as "Spank me for a baby!" and "Honest to my Grandma!" He was always a good man to have on your side in a back alley brawl. Reggie York, in contrast, sounded like a proper English gentleman. He spoke with a precise British accent and might have been considered a bit of a dandy until the fighting started. He was possessed of immense strength and could hold his own in any tussle.
It is said that Carlton E. Morse kept a globe on his desk while writing the show. He would send his adventurers from one end of the world to the other. His serials lasted about three weeks and then the dynamic trio would be off to another location, sometimes thousands of miles away. They might be spending the night in a temple full of vampires in one story. Then they would be put off a freight train in wind-swept Bury Your Dead, Arizona, in another. Three weeks later they could be dealing with a religious cult in French Indo-China or climbing the stairway to the sun in Venezuela. Death ran rampant on this show. In one of Morse's serials a character says, "Men die everyday," and die they did. They were stabbed in the back or had their throats torn out by werewolves. Vampires sucked the blood from their veins and men plunged into bottomless chasms. The peril never ended.
Some of the greatest fights in the history of radio were fought by Doc Long. Forget Joe Lewis and Billy Conn. You should have heard Doc defeat a passel of professional fighters in the serial, "Battle of the Century" or heard him fight it out with a vampire. He once killed a huge mountain lion with only a hunting knife, and there was the time in the Temple of the Jaguars. There he engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the high priest, Holy Joe, on a suspension bridge 150 feet above the floor. Oh, what a show!
The program's theme began with an urgent train whistle, merging with the eerie music of an organ recital of Sibelius' Valse Triste, suggestive of a funeral. A chime of a clock soon brought us to the scene of the action. What followed you just have to hear for yourself.
I Love a Mystery left the air for the last time in 1952. It failed to make the transition to TV. Many tears came to the eyes of its many fans at its demise. Carlton, you were the greatest!
Unfortunately, only six mostly-complete full-length I Love a Mystery serials remain available to collectors. Carlton E. Morse did another series of thirteen half-hour programs called I Love Adventure. He used the same format and characters as in his I Love a Mystery series. All of these are available to collectors.
It's been about forty years since I Love a Mystery was last broadcast. Nothing has happened in the intervening years to change my opinioin of it. It was the greatest that ever was and probably the greatest that ever will be. Insert a cassette of "Temple of Vampires" or "The Thing that Cries in the Night" and punch a key. See if I'm not right.