Although George R. Stewart did not make much use of electronic communication devices or media, he did, as reported earlier, find himself involved in the creation of Disney films. At about the same time, in the late 1940s, Stewart – or an actor playing Stewart – made an appearance on a radio mystery program.
Television was on the horizon in 1946, but Americans still listened to their favorite programs on the radio. Comedians like Fibber McGee and Molly or Jack Benny, western stars like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans or Bobby Benson of the B-Bar-B – and mysteries or detective programs.
Mystery programs, which used the mind of the listener to create suspense or terror, were particularly creative and effective, because we all fear the unknown that we imagine much more than the known we can see. The rattlesnake in your mind is much more terrifying than the rattlesnake on the trail. Even today, it can be hard to listen to one of the more dramatic mysteries, like The Shadow, especially if you’re alone and it’s a dark and stormy night.
Mystery programs usually had a key character like Lamont Cranston – the Shadow. The main character was often an urbane, slightly eccentric city type – an antiques dealer or bon vivant or independently wealthy person, who had a nose for solving mysteries. Think of Poirot or Inspector Morse or the modern Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Gregory Hood was such a detective He lived in a penthouse in San Francisco, made his money in the collectible art import and export business, and even had a Chinese house servant – the ultimate mark of cool for the radio detective. One of Hood’s creators was local writer Anthony Boucher. Boucher was the pen name of William Anthony Parker White, who lived in Berkeley and knew George R. Stewart. To make the show especially “real,” Boucher used Richard Gump, of Gump’s Department Store, which specialized in the sale of art, as a consultant.
By the time of the radio show, August of 1946, Stewart had become a well-known author. Names on the Land had just been released; impressed with the book, Boucher decided to build an episode of the radio show around it.
Several episodes of The Casebook of Gregory Hood are available; unfortunately, “The Ghost Town Mortuary,” the episode with George R. Stewart, has not yet been found. Fortunately, Stewart kept a copy of the script, and donated that to the Bancroft. Here’s a portion:
…GREGORY: This place is handy for the one person who I think can help us on this case.
SANDY: And who is that person?
GREGORY: Professor George Stewart, of the University English Department.
MARY: Oh yes! He wrote “Storm”—a wonderful book.
GREGORY: True, but what is more to our immediate point is the fact that Random House recently published his new book: “Names on the Land.” It’s a classic and definitive study of American place-naming. His virtues are many. (with a chuckle) Including a fine sense of entering on cue. Here he is. (Raising his voice) Hello, George.
GEORGE R. STEWART: (clearance arranged) (straight and charming ) How are you, Gregory?
GREGORY: Fine. …
Stewart is able to identify the location where a kidnap victim is being held by one word on a note – the word is the name of a ghost town. The town is real, and the name is discussed in Stewart’s place-naming book; but Boucher moves the town west for dramatic purposes.
You can learn more about the series here.
You can listen to an episode here.
This was not Stewart’s only exposure on radio. A few years after this episode, the classic radio drama series Escape broadcast a version of Earth Abides. In order to capture its epic sweep, Escape broadcast the story in two half hour segments. And in the days before high quality recording, it was broadcast in an East Coast and a West Coast version. The star was the well-known character actor John Dehner.
Note the use of the term “ecology” at the beginning of the broadcast. This is one of the first uses of the term, or concept, in mass media.