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When Dashiell Hammett’s The Adventures of Sam Spade made its debut over ABC in August of 1946, personable Howard Duff, a comparative unknown in Hollywood circles, was assigned the title role. The selection of young Duff for the hard-hitting detective was perfect casting, his success was immediate, and Hollywood began predicting important things to come for this new personality. Just one year after his “Sam Spade” debut, Howard Duff found himself under personal contract to Mark Hellinger, movie producer. His first screen role as “Soldier” in Hellinger’s production of Brute Force, had rated him star material from critics throughout the country. He received on-screen credit as “radio’s Sam Spade.” Even when Duff was given offers for movie roles, he never gave up the radio gig, often making long trips to multiple studios so he could juggle both acting forms.

The enormous success of the Sam Spade radio program spawned a comic strip series, magazine articles and radio crossovers, and at one time Universal Studios even considered the possibility of making a Sam Spade movie with Duff in the lead. All this and much more because of a single radio program, based on a fictional detective glamorized in one novel, three short stories, and three films, including the impressive 1941 motion picture, The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart. Dashiell Hammett, the creator of the fictional private eye, received royalty checks for the use of his character, but had no direct involvement with the series except the lending of his name in the opening and closing credits. About the time the radio program gained popularity, Hammett joined the New York Civil Rights Congress, a leftist organization that was considered by some to be a Communist front. When four Communists related to the organization were arrested, Hammett raised money for their bail bond. When the accused fled, he was subpoenaed about their whereabouts, and investigated by Congress. Although Hammett testified to his own activities, he refused to divulge the identities of known American Communists, resulting in a five-month imprisonment sentence for contempt of court, and he was promptly blacklisted.

In June of 1951, Howard Duff’s name appeared in the Anti-Communist publication known as Red Channels (as a result of “guilt by association”) and both the networks and the sponsor attempted to evade the program altogether, resulting in Steve Dunne taking over the lead role, and soon after, the radio program’s cancellation. Before the series was cancelled, 245 episodes were broadcast. According to which reference guide you prefer, between 60 and 70 episodes are presently available from collectors across the country. The reason for this is simple: the networks never made it a policy to record the broadcasts. It was very expensive to do so, and no one at the broadcasting studios had any notion that a commercial value could be placed on the recordings. The few that survive today are courtesy of collectors who sought out the wire recordings and transcription discs, and took the time to transfer the sound to a medium such as compact discs and audio cassettes. All that remains now of the lost episodes are the scripts.

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