Tuesday, June 02, 2020


Harry Blackstone (1885-1965) was for many years the most successful magician in North America, extending his stage magic success into movies, books, a comic book series, and this radio show, which is an adaptation of the comic book. It ran on Mutual for two seasons, and there are a number of shows (35+) floating around online, taken from surface-noise filled transcription discs.

As with western film star Tom Mix’s radio shows, we have a real person (Mix/Blackstone) played on radio by an actor. This Blackstone, like his comic book version, is not just a magician, but also a crime-solver, using his magic skills to trick and capture various con artists, thieves, phony spiritualists, and the like. He is teamed on the show with his assistant, Rhoda, who accompanies him on his detective cases on this show as well as in his magic act at theaters and nightclubs, as well as an announcer, Don, who feeds Blackstone questions and acts surprised and impressed at his brilliant tricks and deduction, while handling the traditional announcer chores.

Being a 15-minute show, things move quickly…in fact, the crime case featured in each show must only run about 11 minutes or so, since after a break when the case is closed, Blackstone offers to do a trick for his assistant and the announcer, and that takes up a few minutes until the show’s close.

Blackstone is played by Edwin Jerome, a florid old-school thespian in the vein of John Carradine or Les Tremayne, who does a great job in helping us to imagine a classy Blackstone in tophat and tails at some swanky nightclub doing his act.

On some level, doing magic on the radio is absurd, but so is doing ventriloquism on the radio, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy made that work. The magic element of the show, as well as the magic trick done at the show’s end, is described in a lot of visual detail, so you can easily “see” it in your mind’s eye.

It also helps that most of the shows were written by Walter B. Gibson, an acclaimed magician himself, author of a number of books on magic and occult phenomena, as well as ghostwriter of Blackstone’s own books. He also, as Maxwell Grant, wrote 300+ novel-length Shadow stories, many of which have been republished two-to-a-book (and are highly recommended….I’ve read a few dozen). The combination of his magic expertise and his skill at quickly-paced atmospheric mysteries as the Shadow author makes this show quite exciting and each episode packs a lot into it.

BLACKSTONE, THE MAGIC DETECTIVE radio episodes are available online from a few different sources, and they are a great way to kill time when you are stuck somewhere working, making dinner, folding laundry, whatever. The comic books are also highly recommended, and scans of those can be found online at Comic Book Plus. Three issues were published circa 1946, and their Blackstone-as-detective format inspired the radio show.

Speaking of Les Tremayne (see pic), you can experience him playing a top hat and tuxedo-clad magician (Dr. Basso) in Larry Buchanan’s 1967 film CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION, shot at a lodge on the shore of Lake Texoma in North Texas. Tremayne undoubtedly based some aspects of his Basso performance on Blackstone. That film is in the public domain, and thus available online, and it too is not to be missed.

1 comment:

Alvin Bishop said...

Keep 'em comin', Bill! Cheers! Alvin Bishop