Brad Runyon

Created by Dashiell Hammett

“He’s walking into that drugstore…
he’s stepping onto the scales…
(SNICK! CLICK!) Weight: 237 pounds…
Fortune…. Danger!
Whoooo is it? The…Fat Man!”

— the intro to the radio show

That’s BRAD RUNYON, the star of the old time radio series The Fat Man (1946-51, ABC), as played to perfection by the subterranean bass-voiced J. Scott Smart, who actually outweighed his character by over thirty pounds. Dashiell Hammett was given credit for creating the character specifically for the show and even allegedly wrote a few scripts to help “set” the series, but much of the credit should probably go to producer, E.J. (“Mannie”) Rosenberg. By the mid-forties, Hammett’s writing days were mostly long behind him, and Hammett was probably just glad to pocket another paycheck without writing anything.

Certainly, the influence is there — Runyon, known as “The Fat Man,” was a tough, at times world-weary private eye, very much cast in the mold of Hammett’s Continental Op. He worked out of an office manned by the obligatory secretary, in this case Lila North, and was known as a ladies’ man, despite his bulk.

Jim Harmon in The Great Radio Heroes praised Smart’s “great booming voice and sly intonations,” and certainly that’s what most folks remember about this series. He notes further that “the appeal was more in the immense man with an immense appetite for life than in the tough-guy scripts written after Hammett left.” Still somebody must have been listening — the show ran for five years

Simultaneously, an Australian version of this show, ran. It starred Lloyd Berrell  as Runyon. It’s generally considered not as good as the American edition. I agree (Berrell didn’t sound particularly “fat”) but it’s entertaining enough.

But Runyon was always something of a shapeshifter, morphing from one medium to another.

In 1951, about the time the radio show was wrapping up its five-year run, a feature film, also titled The Fat Man, directed by William Castle and starring  J. Scott Smart, was released. It also starred Jayne Meadows, Julie London, a very young Rock Hudson and circus clown Emmett Kelly, and followed Runyon as he investigates the LA murder of a NYC dentist, which eventually leads to a circus showdown. Perhaps tellingly, Hammett is mentioned nowhere in the credits, although by the time of the film’s release, Hammett was being blacklisted, having refused to name names before the House of Un-American Activities Committee.

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough piece of fluff, with Runyon now hanging out at a swank New York restaurant, where he often shows the French chefs back in the kitchen how it’s done. It recalled to me the whackos hanging around Guiterrez’s restaurant in Norbert Davis’ Max Latin series, and hints at television’s gourmet P.I.  Frank Cannon, who was still twenty years away.

The film didn’t set the world on fire, but several years later, in 1959, an hour-long television pilot aired entitled The Fat Man: The Thirty-Two Friends of Gina Lardelli. It was scripted by Blake Ritchie (an early pen name of Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts). Robert Middleton played the lead, but his name was now Lucius Crane, and he was a harpsichord-playing gourmet and private eye. According to Dick Lochte, “The show was competently made and Middleton was able to be both tough and effete.”

And once again, there was no mention of Hammett anywhere in the credits.

KEEP THE CHECKS COMING, BOYS

  • It’s not quite clear just how much Hammett ever helped “develop” the radio series, or whether he simply lent his name to the proceedings, for a cut of the take. He confessed, in the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette of September 6, 1949, that “My sole duty in regard to these programs (presumably he was also referring to The Thin Man and Sam Spade series) is to look in the mail for a check once a week. I don’t even listen to them. If I did, I’d complain about how they were being handled, and then I’d fall into the trap of being asked to come down and help. I don’t want to have anything to do with the radio. It’s a dizzy world–makes the movies seem highly intellectual.”

UNDER OATH

  • “Being a really old guy, I saw The Fat Man film when it first came out. I was already a big fan of the radio program, which also starred J. Scott Smart as Brad Runyon. I have to admit that the movie’s no classic, but it’s worth watching just for the curiosity value. William Castle, of course, went on to become more famous for his publicity stunts than for his directing, but he was good at crime movies. And besides J. Scott Smart, the movie stars Rock Hudson in one of his earliest roles, along with Emmett Kelly and Julie London (!).”
    — Bill Crider on  Rara-Avis
  • “To put the finishing touch to The Fat Man, a TV pilot was made in 1959 titled The Fat Man: The Thirty-Two Friends of Gina Lardelli. The writers were Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts who were, I think, connected to both Mannix and Mission Impossible. Show was hour-long, black and white, with Robert Middleton in the lead. This “Fat Man” was a private detective named Lucius Crane, a harpsichord-playing gourmet with a thin fast talking young assistant. It seemed to combine the Fat Man radio show with elements of Nero Wolfe. Show was competently made and Middleton was able to be both tough and effete. No mention of Hammett, though.”
    — Dick Lochte on Rara-Avis

RADIO

  • THE FAT MAN
    (1946-51, ABC)
    Based on a character created by Dashiell Hammett
    Writers: Dashiell Hammett, Richard Ellington, Robert Sloane Lawrence, Klee, Dan Shuffman, Frank Kane,
    Directed by Clark Andrews, Charles Powers
    Produced by E.J. “Mannie” Rosenberg
    Starring J. Scott Smart as BRAD RUNYON
    Also starring Mary Patton as Lila North
    With Ed Begley as Sergeant O’Hara
    Also starring Dan Ocko, Rolly Bester, Robert Dryden

    • “The Nineteenth Pearl” (January 21, 1946)
    • “The Twice-Told Secret” (February 11, 1946)
    • “The Black Angel” (July 8, 1946)
    • “The Crooked Horse” (September 9, 1946)
    • “A Window for Murder” (October 3, 1947)
    • “Murder Rents a Flat” (April 9, 1948)
    • “Murder Wins the Draw” (April 1, 1949)
    • “Murder Plays Hide and Seek” (1947)
    • “Murder Wins The Draw” (April 1, 1949)
    • “Murder is the Medium” (July 22, 1949)
    • “Order for Murder” (September 5, 1951)
    • “The Nightmare Murder” (January 17, 1951)
    • “An Unfamiliar Face”
    • “Crooked Horse”
  • THE FAT MAN
    (1940’s, Australia)
    52 episodes
    Based on a character created by Dashiell Hammett
    Writers: Unknown
    Directors: Unknown
    Starring Lloyd Berrell as BRAD RUNYON

    • “Murder Squares The Triangle”
    • “Murder Plays The Horses”
    • “Murder Sends A Christmas Card”
    • “Murder Runs A Want Ad”
    • “Murder Wears A False Face”
    • “Murder Stalks The Dead”
    • “Murder Through A Crystal”
    • “Murder Makes A Ham”
    • “Murder and The Peacock”
    • “Murder and The Undertaker”
    • “Murder Seeks a Lost Penny”
    • “Murder Makes a Statue”
    • “Murder Rings A Bell”
    • “Murder Repeats Itself”
    • “Murder Rides A Wheelchair”
    • “Murder Finds A Coffin”
    • “Murder For Sale”
    • “Murder By Mail”
    • “Murder Shows An Unfamiliar Face”
    • “Murder Makes a Kings Coffin”
    • “Murder Makes a Black Moon”
    • “Murder Shows A Phantom Face”
    • “Murder Makes a Silent Partner”
    • “Murder Makes Music”
    • “Murder Writes A Story”
    • “Murder Meets an Uncertain Lady”
    • “Murder Shows A Card”
    • “Murder Makes a Pay Off”
    • “Murder In The Dark”
    • “Murder Shows Eyes In The Dark”
    • “Murder Makes a Broken Heart”
    • “Murder Pays Dividends”
    • “Murder Appears Out Of The Past”
    • Murder Made Stylish”
    • “Murder Takes A Picture”
    • “Murder is Forecast

FILM

  • THE FAT MAN
    (1951, Universal)
    77 minutes, black and white
    Based on a character created by Dashiell Hammett (uncredited)
    Screenplay by Harry Essex and Leonard Lee
    Story by Leonard Lee
    Directed by William Castle
    Cinematography by Irving Glassberg
    Original music by Bernard Green
    Produced by Aubrey Schenck
    Starring J. Scott Smart as BRAD RUNYON
    Also starring Julie London, Rock Hudson, Clinton Sundberg, Jayne Meadows, John Russell, Jerome Cowan, Emmett Kelly, Lucille Barkley, Robert Osterloh, Harry Lewis, Teddy Hart
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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