Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

HARRY NILE, SEATTLE P.I.

THE GLORIOUS ERA of radio detectives ran from the 1940s into the 1960s. Private investigators such as Johnny Dollar, Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade entertained me back then. And, through the wonders of SiriusXM “Radio Classics,” these traditional noir gumshoes entertain me now.

This satellite radio service and one of its sponsors, RadioSpirits.com introduced me to Harry Nile, private investigator. Harry, of the same noir genre, worked Los Angeles and Seattle during the 1940s and 1950s. Jim French was the chronicler of Harry Nile adventures, through his Imagination Theatre that presented these radio broadcasts before audiences at the Kirkland Performance Center.

The Adventures of Harry Nile: Seattle Blues, is available through RadioSpirits.com.

The Adventures of Harry Nile were originally broadcast intermittently from January 1976 to May 2010. At its high point, the Seattle-based show was heard weekly on 52 radio stations, ranging from Alaska (Galena) to Wyoming (Green River), as far east as Bangor, Maine, as far south as Daytona Beach, Florida, and internationally as well in New Zealand.

Alas, the nearest southern California station was KFMB, San Diego, so I had to wait until SiriusXM “Radio Classics” for my Harry Nile introduction. The Jim French Productions of The Adventures of Harry Nile and equally well done The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are the “newest” additions to Greg Bell’s “Radio Classics.”

And worthy additions indeed.

James R. French, 1928–2017, American radio writer, producer, and presenter. His Jim French Productions broadcast more than 800 full-cast radio shows between 1975 and 2017. Jim’s wife Pat, who portrayed Harry Nile’s partner Murphy, died before him in 2017. Image from Seattle Radio Enthusiasts.

Like other radio sleuths, Jim French’s Harry began his career as a cop, in this case on the Chicago police force. Harry’s real surname was Niletti, changed to protect his family from certain Chicago-based baddies.

What with one thing and another (most of the noir variety), Harry ends up on the West Coast, first in Los Angeles and eventually Seattle. In time, he’s aided by a partner, a red-haired former librarian called Murphy. While she likes Harry, she’s also independent enough not to get involved romantically.

Murphy was portrayed by Pat French, in real life Jim’s wife. Harry was portrayed by Phil Harper, one of the Imagination Theatre repertory players. In a Thrilling Detective Web Site interview, Phil says, “I drew some of my character’s rumbly voice from Howard Duff who played Sam Spade and from an actor who played Johnny Dollar, possibly Edmond O’Brien, on the radio.”

Harry’s adventures are rather more low key and complex, compared with those of traditional gumshoes. I especially enjoy the way in which period references are artfully worked into matters. In one, for instance, Harry mentions margarine in plastic bags, each bag containing a little red dot of food coloring. You had to break the capsule and massage its color into the margarine that, when purchased, had a particularly unappetizing white-lard appearance.

One margarine manufacturer called the red button its “E-Z Color Pak” and a “Color Berry.” Image from a 1948 advertisement in The Ladies’ Home Journal.

Why didn’t they just add the color during the manufacturing process? Ask the dairy (i.e. butter) lobby, a dominating force in Washington, D.C., at the time. Fortunately, by 1967 this marketing nonsense disappeared, with Wisconsin being the last holdout.

Harry was destined to be happier on the West Coast than in the Middle West. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

One comment on “HARRY NILE, SEATTLE P.I.

  1. Bob DuBois
    June 25, 2018

    I remember that margarine brand well. My mom used to let me do the mixing. Before Delrich, all margarines were just a 1-lb. bag of white stuff, and a separate packet of red powder. You dumped the oleo in a bowl, poured the red stuff on top, then mixed it with your hands until you got a uniform yellow color. Then you reshaped it into a block, and put it back in the original box. Yes, the dairy lobby was VERY powerful in those days!

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