Night Beat — “Mentallo, the Mental Marvel””

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Nightbeat (1950-52) aired “Mentallo, the Mental Marvel” on May 1, 1950 as the 13th episode of an estimated 104. Some 74-78 episodes remain in circulation. This radio noir “detective” show featured film–and later TV–star Frank Lovejoy (1912-1962) as Randy Stone, the nightbeat reporter for the fictional Chicago Star newspaper.

This is only the second episode of Night Beat we have showcased here, the first being The Devil’s Bible from July of 2013, so a bit of background on the show is in order. While well received, it ran for a modest two years before being cancelled, but not from any fault of its own. It had two factors going against it, both with origins at NBC. The time for a new radio show, and for a network to pour money into it, wasn’t the best. The early 1950s was becoming a growth spurt for the relatively new medium of television, and advertisers realizing its much larger potential audience were diverting their ad dollars away from radio and into this promising new market. Secondly, and for whatever reason, NBC around this time had a reputation for not supporting many of its shows with in-house advertising around the country, or allowing them the benefit of stable time slots so audiences could plan on listening to their favorite shows at a regular time. Both of these factors had a role in Night Beat‘s short life span. NBC would move it from one day of the week to another and at a different nightly time slot, without notice or fanfare, making it difficult for its audience to follow. Thus, while the show was a success, it was in spite of NBC, not because of anything its parent network did to support it.

As noted above, Frank Lovejoy portrayed Randy Stone, the night beat reporter for the fictional newspaper, the Chicago Star. He wasn’t the show’s first coice, however. Noted film actor Edmond O’Brien played Stone in an audition episode, but the censorship watchdogs that had for a long time been active in radio felt O’Brien’s hardcore, gritty characterization of Stone to be too stark for younger listeners, so decreed that Night Beat would have to air in a later time slot if it was to be given a green light. Rather than moving their new show in the making to a late night venue (with fewer listeners and thus fewer potential ad dollars spent), they would soften the Stone character. Enter Frank Lovejoy, with a voice historians would later place in the top ten of the most distinctive voices in radio. Lovejoy also brought his own sense of down to earth humanity and heartfelt compassion to the role (which he did to all of his radio roles, some 3,000 productions during his radio career), and Night Beat had its winning formula.

Lovejoy was a well known and respected film actor in the 1940s and 50s, having supporting or major roles in more than two dozen films, a scant few of many worth mentioning being 1949’s In a Lonely Place (starring Humphrey Bogart), and the title role in the classic 1951 noir crime thriller I Was a Communist for the FBI. Lovejoy featured prominently in several world War II and/or Korean War films, the most high profile probably his co-starring role with James Stewart in 1954’s Strategic Air Command. Of interest to genre fans is Lovejoy’s role as Lt. Tom Brennan opposite Vincent Price in the 1953 3D horror flick House of Wax (the first color 3D film to be released by a major American studio, and the first in a regular theater setting to offer stereophonic sound).

So listen now to Frank Lovejoy as Randy Stone, night beat reporter for the Chicago Star, as his nightly wanderings through the city find him at a summer carnival and the unexpected goings-on involving “Mentallo, the Mental Marvel,” a dark, sad tale of love and how it can make life worth living…or lead to its end.

Play Time: 24:30

    {Despite its title, the neighborhood gang yawned at this episode of Night Beat, and spent the final hours before their bedtime reading their newest batch of pulps. That weekend found them at the corner drugstore looking for more and they found a veritable feast of fantasy offerings. fantastic Adventures (1939-53) always held an exotic allure and the cover to the one below was rife with both. It was a monthly in 1950. Jungle Stories (1938-54) was also a prime destination for colorful tales of secret peoples, strange creatures, and untold dangers only the Jungle Lord Ki-Gor could defeat. It was a quarterly in 1950. The venerable Weird Tales “the unique magazine” (1923-54) captured the darkside of supernatural fantasy like no other magazine, though others have tried valiantly and a few have come close for a short while. Along with the eye-catching cover to this issue of WT by Boris Dolgov, it contained quite a few stories by both women and men, and included the following authors:  Robert Bloch, Harold Lawlor, Stanton A. Coblentz, Seabury Quinn, William F. Temple, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Margaret St. Clair, Evangeline Walton, August Derleth (writing as Stephen Grendon), and Malcolm M. Ferguson. And if that wasn’t enough, the issue had interior artwork by Hannes Bok and a poem by Clark Ashton Smith. No wonder the gang couldn’t pass it up. WT was a bi-monthly in 1950.]

[Left: fantastic Adventures, May 1950 – Center: Jungle Stories, Spring 1950 – Right: Weird Tales, May 1950]


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