Richard Diamond, Private Detective — “Butcher Killed”

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Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1949-52) aired “Butcher Killed” on July 16, 1949 as its 13th episode of some 141. The show originally aired over NBC stations, then ABC, and then finally in 1953 by CBS, but all of the CBS shows were repeats from the 1950-51 season, thus some old time radio sites list the show’s run as going into 1953. Richard Diamond (starring film icon Dick Powell, 1904-1963, photo at right) was an ex-cop turned private detective who maintained good relations with his ex-boss and police lieutenant Walter Levinson (played by Ed Begley [1901-1970], probably most recognizable as juror #10 in the classic 1957 film Twelve Angry Men, and father to actor Ed Begley, Jr.). Diamond’s girlfriend, Helen Asher, was played by Virginia Gregg (1916-1986), who went on to have many film and television roles (including the Twilight Zone episode “The Masks” which aired March 20, 1964).The character of Richard Diamond–and the radio program itself–was the brainchild of Blake Edwards (1922-2010), perhaps best known for writing and directing the Pink Panther movies, as well as directing other fine films such as Operation Petticoat (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Days of Wine and Roses (1962). Blake’s private detective Richard Diamond didn’t exactly fit the standard mold people were used to, as typified in the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. While he could wisecrack with the best of them, he was also suave and sophisticated and tough as nails, living the high life in New York City when not found visiting the swank penthouse apartment of his girlfriend, Helen Asher. Being a well-seasoned song and dance man due to his many early movies where he inevitably ended up singing, Dick Powell was the perfect choice to play Richard Diamond, especially after his smashing success in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet. Audiences loved Powell as Diamond, so much so that the show’s popularity warranted its own television counterpart. It starred David Janssen (1931-1980) and ran from 1957-1960. Janssen, of course, is best remembered for his iconic role as Dr. Richard Kimble in the classic TV series The Fugitive (1963-67).

Notes about the major actors of the supporting cast:

A few of Virginia Gregg’s many other radio roles include The Adventures of Sam Spade, Dragnet, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and The Zero Hour (an early 1970s radio drama hosted by Rod Serling featuring stories of mystery, suspense, and advenure).

Some of the televsion shows in which Virginia Gregg made an appearance include 77 Sunset Strip, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Perry Mason, The Rockford Files, Maverick, Wagon Train, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, My Favorite Martian, The Twilight Zone, Philip Marlowe, Hazel, and Kung Fu.

Ed Begley’s radio roles were far fewer than Virginia Gregg’s, but included appearances on Charlie Chan, The Fat Man (1946-51), The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, the first year of Richard Diamond, Private Detective, and Tales of the Texas Rangers.

Much more prolific in the film industry, a few of Begley’s many movie roles include appearances in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), The Great Gatsby (1949), The Lady from Texas (1951), The Turning Point (1952), the aforementioned Twelve Angry Men (1957), Sweet Bird of Youth (1962, for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), Hang’Em High (1968), and The Dunwich Horror (1970).


As for Dick Powell, his breakout film was 1944’s noir classic Murder, My Sweet. Based on Raymond Chandler’s detective character Philip Marlowe from his 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, the film was released with the book’s title but audience reaction was tepid at best, the feeling being that the title wasn’t dark enough and audiences assumed it was just another of Powell’s many light romances he had been making since the 1930s (30+ such roles from 1932-1939), in which he played handsome young men who wooed women with his boyish good looks, musical ability, and crooning voice. Getting older, and desirous of more mature roles that fit his middle aged demeanor, he convinced the powers that be to give him the role of Marlowe from Chandler’s novel. It was quite a gamble but Powell pulled it off admirably and the film is now recognized as a noir classic. When the film was released in late December of 1944 with the novel’s title and proved unsuccessful at the box office, it was quickly retitled Murder, My Sweet and re-released in February of 1945 in St. Louis with much better results. The box office and critical acclaim following the film led to several other noir films of note with Powell in the lead: Johnny O’Clock (1947, in which he played a detective), To the Ends of the Earth (1948, crime noir), and Pitfall (also 1948, film noir where he starred as a bored insurance agent who falls in love with the wrong woman).

Powell was also active in television as actor, director, and producer. Arguably his best known TV endeavor was Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater or as it came to be known, simply Zane Grey Theatre (1956-1961). It was a western anthology series based on the works of Zane Grey, but as time went on new material was added to keep the stories fresh. It guest-starred many of the most well known or beloved and/or major TV/movie stars of the day, including but not limited to:  Anne Bancroft,  Robert Blake, Ernest Borgnine, Lloyd Bridges, Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, Julie London, Ginger Rogers, James Garner, Dennis Hopper, Burl Ives, Michael Landon, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Lemmon, David Niven, John Dehner, Burt Reynolds, Lon Chaney, Jr., Barbara Stanwyck, and many more. Much beloved in Hollywood and throughout the country by his legion of fans, Dick Powell died on February 3, 1963. His widow, well known actress June Allyson, gave his cause of death as lung cancer due to his chain smoking. Powell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

As for “Butcher Killed,” it begins with grisly murder and sets Diamond off on a perilous manhunt to discover the killer or killers, and that’s about all you need to know of this early Richard Diamond, Private Detective episode.

[Left: Murder, My Sweet poster – Center: Virginia Gregg & Dick Powell – Right: TZ episode “The Masks,” Virginia Gregg on the left]


Play Time: 29:40

    {After listening to “Butcher Killed,” the neighborhood gang was still in the mood for detective stories to satiate their bloodthirsty little hearts, so they swaggered down to the local newsstand and found just what they were looking for. Detective Tales (1935-53) was a bargain for a quarter, with 15 complete stories (and this issue had an unexpected Louis L’Amour story!). It was a monthly in 1949. Dime Detective (1931-53) had been a solid favorite for years when the mood hit them, and with this issue heralding a new John D. MacDonald story it became an easy choice. It, too, was a monthly in 1949. Dime Mystery (1932-50) more often than not injected an element of the macabre or strange to its stories, making it an impossible-to-turn-down purchase for young fantasy and/or horror fans. Covers like the one below will show you why. It held to a regular monthly schedule until 1941, but by 1949 had become a regular bi-monthly.}

[Left: Detective Tales, July 1949 – Center: Dime Detective, July 1949 – Right: Dime Mystery, June 1949]


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