By Ivan G Shreve Jr
The Golden Age of Radio featured many programs that, despite their excellence, failed to attract a large listening audience. There are any number of reasons to explain their lukewarm receptions—the most common being scheduling. If a network had difficulty deciding on a suitable timeslot, and moved a series around to different days and times, listeners would quickly become discouraged with the “hide-and-seek.” An issue related to scheduling was sponsorship. If a show couldn’t find an angel to pay the bills, the network might move on.
Sadly, it is only through the hindsight of transcription recordings that old-time radio fans have learned of “the ones that got away.” Pursuit, which premiered over CBS on this date in 1949, is an excellent example. Elliott “Mr. Radio” Lewis, Norman Macdonnell, and William N. Robson worked on Pursuit’s production-direction end during its brief run, with the show scripted by veterans like Antony Ellis, Les Crutchfield, and Morton Fine & David Friedkin. Leith Stevens and his orchestra provided the music (with Eddie Dunstedter and his organ in the show’s last season).
“A criminal strikes and fades quickly back into the shadow of his own dark world…and then, the man from Scotland Yard, the famous Inspector Peter Black, and the relentless, dangerous pursuit…when man hunts man!” So went Pursuit’s opening each week, presenting cases from the files of fictional Inspector Peter Black. Black was the epitome of the dedicated English cop; a manhunter so relentless in his duty that he would not rest until his target was brought to justice. Assisting Black (who went by “Inspector Harvey” in the pilot and first episode of the series) was Sergeant Moffatt.
The first actor to portray Black was Ted de Corsia, whose radio gigs include The Shadow and The Adventures of Ellery Queen. Radio allowed de Corsia to demonstrate a remarkable flexibility outside his familiar film roles in features like The Naked City (1948) and The Enforcer (1951). Ted’s stint on Pursuit lasted until May of 1950 (where it had been sponsored by Ford since January); the program then became a brief summer replacement for Gene Autry (and Wrigley’s Gum), with John Dehner as Black (also Herb Butterfield). In the summer of 1951, Pursuit returned for Wrigley’s, as Life with Luigi’s replacement. Ben Wright had stepped into the role of Inspector Black by then.
Wright continued on Pursuit for its second full (and final) season beginning in the fall of 1951, with the bills now being paid by Sterling Drugs (Haley’s M-O, Molle). Pursuit also co-starred William Johnstone as Black’s superior, Chief Inspector Harkness, adding an interesting aspect to the program in that there were dual narrators (Black did the bridging scenes while Harkness handled the opening and closing). It was a well-done program, with a total of 64 broadcasts generated and some 20 shows available to collectors.
Copyright 2020 Ivan G Shreve Jr and RSPT LLC. All rights reserved.