Candy Matson — “The Donna Dunham Case”

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Candy Matson (1949-1951) recorded “The Donna Dunham Case” on April 4, 1949 as its audition show. It would run as the new show’s first episode on June 20, 1949 under the slightly expanded title “The Donna Dunham Chinatown Case.” After a popular run of some 92 episodes it closed shop on June 3, 1951. All shows were recorded before a live audience for later broadcast. An audition for a relaunch was recorded on September 9, 1952, but apparently nothing came of it.

With the International Woman’s Day taking place earlier this week I thought I would present an Old Time Radio episode featuring a woman, and a smart, self-sufficient one at that. Everyone is familiar with all of the police or detective shows featuring a male detective, sleuth, or investigator (some in the superhero vein). There was The Saint, Sherlock Holmes, Nick Carter, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Nero Wolfe, Jeff Regan (starring Jack Webb), Dragnet (again starring Jack Webb), Johnny Dollar, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, and many, many others. One estimate runs to 120 OTR detective/police shows featuring a male lead. But not only were there Private Eyes on radio, there were Private Eyelashes as well, as early as the late 1930s and well into the 1940s (Kitty Keene, Carolyn Day-Detective, Miss Pinkerton, Meet Miss Sherlock, and Police Woman, to name a few). Though short lived (it never had a sponsor, advertisers were jumping on early television to promote their products), Candy Matson was one of the most popular radio shows west of the Mississipi and especially in San Francisco.

Candy Matson was the brainchild of Monty Masters. Originally conceived as a private investigator program set in San Francisco with a male lead, Masters’ mother-in-law convinced him to feature a female private eye. Masters then turned to his wife Natalie Masters (the former Natalie Park, 1915-1986: photo at left, Monty and Natalie, May 1957; photo at right, Natalie in December of 1938, age 23, enjoying her hobby of sailboating) to play the lead role, for which her real life personality was made. Candy Matson lived life to its fullest. A former actress who gave it all up for the life of a private detective, she now resides in a penthouse atop San Francisco’s famed Telegraph Hill. Throughout various episodes we learn that she loves her furs, sunbathing on her patio, listening to 49ers games while sipping martinis, and pretty much her overall luxurious lifestyle. She never compromises in deference to her sexuality, and is a much sought after investigator–as her high-end fees can attest. About her love of cash, Candy quips that it is needed to keep the “moths out of a few mink coats.” Candy had two recurring supporting characters in her adventures, handsome police Lieutenant Ray Mallard (with whom she has more than a professional relationship as the series progresses and his character becomes more suave and alluring than in this initial episode), and her best friend Rembrandt Watson, a single, middle-aged, flamboyant fashion photographer who enjoys the opera. Even though San Francisco had the largest gay community of any American city after World War II, and the show was set in the City by the Bay, network radio in the 40s and 50s would not allow an openly gay character to appear on the air, but Masters’ scripts managed to suggest as much, and the actor who played Watson, Jack Thomas (stage name for Natalie’s real life uncle), added a slightly feminine air to his characterization as time went on (though not noticeable in this audition episode). After listening to several of the surviving 14 episodes, it is easy to understand the popularity of Candy Matson. Natalie Masters plays her perfectly: saucy, sexy, smart, hard as nails when need be, and unapologetic and fully embracing her chosen lifestyle. A woman for the ages it would seem and ahead of her time. Natalie Masters would go on to have roles in several films and numerous episodes of popular tv shows, several of which are shown below.

(Left: Dragnet, 1957 – Center: My Three Sons, 1964 – Right: The Addams Family, 1966–with Parley Bear, the voice of Chester on radio’s Gunsmoke and later as Mayor Stoner on tv’s The Andy Griffith Show.)


Dudley Manlove, the program’s announcer, is an enigma, for no one knows of his whereabouts or if he even still lives (doubtful). Little more is known of his wife, Patty Pritchard, though as of 2002 her voice could still be heard on a local San Francisco car dealer’s commercial. An interesting bit of trivia for genre fans is that Manlove played the alien named Eros from 1959’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (photo at left).

“The Donna Dunham Case” is fairly traditional in its general story arc as many private eye/detective adventures are, with a murder and someone knocking on Candy’s door (with a large retainer) asking her to look into it. The devil (or in this case the murderer) is in the details, of course, and it is Candy’s job to follow the clues and put all the pieces together.

Play Time: 26:42

{Though this episode of Candy Matson was the audition from April of 1949, it didn’t officially air until June of 1949, so it was at this time that the neighborhood SF enthusiasts gathered for their regular trek to the corner newsstand for their favorite reading. As always, Astounding  held to its monthly schedule and was a sure pick. Planet Stories was a quarterly, and Thrilling Wonder Stories was a bi-monthly. It was a terrific summer for Leigh Brackett, for she enjoyed seeing two of her most famous–and now classic–stories on the covers of Planet Stories and TWS.}

[Left: Astounding, June 1949 – Center: Planet Stories, Summer 1949 – Right: Thrilling Wonder Stories. June 1949]


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