Molle Mystery Theater — “The Eleventh Juror”

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Mollé Mystery Theater (1943-48) aired “The Eleventh Juror” on April 3, 1945 as the 79th of its estimated 237 episodes from this time period, of which only 73 are known to be in circulation. It would exist under several name changes for another six years or so, and would switch from its original network, NBC, to CBS (1948-51), and then ABC. Its glory years as a first class mystery show are acknowledged as those comprising its original incarnation at NBC (i.e. 1943-48).

Written by supernatural horror and mystery writer Vincent Starrett (1886-1974, photo at right), this story (which many believe to be his finest) first saw print in the August 1927 issue of Real Detective Tales (cover at left). Starrett began his career as a crime reporter in Chicago, then in the 1920s and 30s began writng for the pulps (both fantasy/horror and mystery).

One of his main outlets was Weird Tales, and Arkham House would collect ten of his stories under the title The Quick and the Dead in 1965. An admitted bibliophile and diehard Arthur Machen devotee, Starrett is credited with bringing the Welsh author and mystic to the attention of an American audience for the first time. Starrett was also a lifelong fan turned aficionado of Sherlock Holmes, penning in 1933 his most famous Holmes work, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. He also was a founder of the Chicago chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Speaking of Chicago, of genre interest is Starrett’s friendship with Robort Bloch (1917-1994, photo at right) who lived and worked in Milwaukee until the early 1950s, close enough to Chicago that Bloch spent time there on a number of occasions. According to Alzine Stone Dale’s 1995 Mystery Reader’s Walking Guide: Chicago: “Reporters Vincent Starrett and Robert Bloch used to meet at the Palmer House for drinks after work. Starrett, a world authority on Sherlock Holmes who wrote the classic The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes, also wrote “The Eleventh Juror” about a criminal trial at 26th and California.” The Palmer House was legendary, for it burned down during the Chicago Fire and was then rebuilt. It was visited as the hotel of choice by many a celebrity (both national and international) over the years. Both Starrett and Bloch would have at least one of their original magazine stories adapted for radio by the Molle Mystery Playhouse. Bloch’s famous “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” originally appearing in Weird Tales for July of 1943 aired as episode 74 on February 27, 1945, and not long after (as recounted above) Starrett’s “The Eleventh Juror” would air as episode 79. While this week’s radio show is about Starrett’s story, there is some fascinating material about Bloch’s early career in comedy and radio (he wrote 39 radio scripts from his own stories that were aired but are now lost) from our August 25, 2015 presentation of “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” here. This fits nicely to both Bloch’s and Starrett’s relationship (in person and with radio adaptations of their stories on Molle Mystery Theater) and is one of those Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon scenarios.

“The Eleventh Juror”is pretty straightforward–until the very end–which accounts for the lion’s share of its popularity. One juror in a murder trial holds out against 11 votes for guilty. If anyone has seen the classic 1957 film Twelve Angry Men, that’s pretty much the identical set up, though the details differ. But it is the final twist that makes the whole story work. Writers take note that this bit of cleverness first saw print almost one hundred years ago, and unless one knows the history of what has been written in any given genre you are likely to be working long-tilled fields.

Play Time: 29:37

   {Blithely unaware that World War II in Europe (known as VE Day, Victory in Europe) would soon be over in 5 short weeks when Germany would sign an unconditional surrender treaty on May 8, 1945, our neighbohood gang found themselves at their favorite haunt, the local newsstand, ogling the covers of their favorite pulp magazines. More often than not these would be SF or Fantasy offerings, but this time they were in the mood for mystery and detective fare after listening to “The Eleventh Juror.” Mammoth Detective (1942-47) would manage only 33 issues before folding, but at 276 pages readers knew a good deal when they saw one. It was a quarterly in 1945. Speed Mystery (1934-46) began as one of the “Spicy” (to be read action oriented magazines whose stories were laced with sex) titles of a certain publisher, but under pressure changed its name and softened the content a bit to reflect the changing times. It nevertheless managed to keep a healthy part of its audience during its twelve year run. It managed 5 issues in 1945 and would see its final issue in March of 1946. Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine (1915-53) was one of the longest running and thereby most successful mystery/detective pulps of all time, published by the same Street & Smith who would launch the legendary SF magazine Astounding SF in 1930 (now Analog). In 1945 it was a monthly.}

[Left: Mammoth Detective, May 1945 – Center: Speed Mystery, March 1945 – Right: S&S Detective Story Magazine, April 1945]


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