Box 13 — “The Treasure of Hang Li”

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Box 13 (1947-1949) aired “The Treasure of Hang Li” on May 29, 1949 as the 41st of its 52 episodes. Box 13 was a production of Mayfair Productions, a company begun by Alan Ladd and Richard Sandville, and was named after a restaurant of the same name owned by the pair. The shows were syndicated to various networks and radio stations who ran them on different days of the week and at different time slots to fit their individual programming. Thus, some shows have differing original air dates and are hard to pin down, especially since a limited block of shows (13 or 26 episodes or more of the 52 total run) might have been picked up years later. So we have the show appearing in 1947-48, and/or 1948-49, cropping up again around 1954, and even into the early 1970s. It was well produced, written, and acted, with quite a few Big Name radio actors appearing in various episodes. It is also one of those shows veering away from the single-track, hard-boiled, noirish detective or P.I. radio shows so popular throughout the 1940s in film and on radio, in that while it kept the noirish element (usually at least one corpse a trademark feature) it also emphasized a strong element of adventure, so that Box 13 is probably best categorized as a noir-adventure series.

The premise of the show has film star Alan Ladd (1913-1964, most recognizable as the hero in the classic 1953 film Shane) as writer/adventurer Dan Holiday. Holiday has retired from his days of writing for a newspaper to write his own fiction, and now to gain ideas for his books has placed an ad in the paper that reads:  “Adventure wanted – will go anywhere, do anything – Box 13.” Holiday’s personal secretary, Suzy (played by Sylvia Picker, photo at right with Ladd), is in charge of his mail drop, which Holiday checks regularly. While Suzy’s character is somewhat ditzy (a not uncommon character in film and radio of the time), she plays it to the hilt  and adds a nice touch to the show.

This is but the third episode of Box 13 we have showcased, the first being a year ago December and the second this past June. The series is quite collectible among Golden Age Radio connoisseurs, and “The Treasure of Hang Li” is regarded by some as one of the best of the lot. Don Holiday answers a most unusual request this time around and soon finds himself in a curio shop asking after a folding jade screen. It quickly turns into a deadly McGuffin, for not only does the person requesting Holday’s assistance in acquiring the curiously inscribed piece of jade seek it, but several others do as well, each vying for the same piece for their own purposes and now with Holiday now unwittingly in the center of the storm. Not to give away too much, but think along the general story line of The Maltese Falcon but with the singular piece of jade screen as the object for which various parties are willing to kill. The only hint I shall divulge here as a teaser is that there are two other screen sections forming this triptych of inscribed jade, and that all three are necessary to spell out the timeless secret of “The Treasure of Hang Li.”

Play Time: 26:44

        {Late May 1949 and the neighborhood geniuses could feel summer vacation in the air as they stared out classroom windows and ignored their lessons. all they had on their minds was a trip to the corner newsstand where they could soak up the sights and smells of their favorite SFpulp magazines as they flipped through them before settling on the inevitable purchases. As always, Astounding (1930-present, now Analog) was a certain buy, and this issue showcased the first part of Hal Clement’s now classic novel Needle. Astounding was a monthly in 1949. Another must-collect favorite was Startling Stories (1939-1955) with its colorful covers and over-the-top stories of impossible adventure and derring-do. It was bi-monthly in 1949. Still wanting a bit of the detective milieu after listening to this episode of Box 13, the latest issue of The Shadow  (1931-1949) was eagerly scooped up and carefully carried to the old man behind the cash register, who carefully placed it in a bag for the walk home, neither one wanting to crease or bend the cover, magazine lovers both and appreciative of the fine arts as found inisde the covers of pulp magazines. The Shadow was a quarterly in 1949 but managed but three issues, the one below being the next to last.]

[Left: Astounding, May 1949 – Center: Startling Stories, May 1949 – Right: The Shadow, Spring 1949]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.