Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nero Wolfe on the Air

I had my first exposure to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe through the 1950s radio program starring Sydney Greenstreet as Wolfe and a bunch of actors as Archie Goodwin. Some don't like Greenstreet's portrayal; I do. The show had enough banter between Wolfe and his partner Archie, who does all the legwork because Wolfe won't leave the house, to make me want to read the books. I started with Wolfe #1, Fer-de-lance, and it's great fun.

But what I've enjoyed most is the Canadian Broadcasting Company's radio adaptation of Wolfe, reportedly based on Stout stories, but, even if they aren't based on Stout's work, they are spot-on and a joy to listen to.

There are 13 episodes, each about an hour long, and the adventures are not only well developed but you also get to enjoy appearances from Stout characters, like junior legman Saul Panzer, who didn't make it into the Greenstreet program.

I think my favorite of the CBC shows--"Before I Die"--concerns a mob boss hiring Wolfe, the gargantuan gourmet who weighs one-seventh of a ton, to fight off a blackmail scheme. Archie tries to convince the boss not to take the case, but the mob boss is in charge of the meat racket, and wartime food rationing is preventing Wolfe from enjoying beef and pork, so he helps the mobster in exchange for a supply of steaks and chops.

Each adventure is narrated, like the books, by Archie, and he's as much the star as Wolfe. Their opposing personalities bring a life to the series that isn't forced, unlike some we can think of. Each character has specific traits that make them come alive, and after spending enough time in their company you feel like you know them.

Mavor Moore played Wolfe; Don Francks played Archie; if you can find the shows, give 'em a listen. You'll enjoy the heck out of them.


  1. I've read all the books, and heard most of the surviving OTR shows, but never heard of these Canadian productions. Have you seen them offered somewhere on CD?