I am wont, in these posts, to drop the kinds of names few of my contemporaries would bother to pick up—at least not here, in this cobwebbed corner of the net, so unlikely to restore luster to the no longer illustrious. Who, though, is concerned with luminaries these days? Luster does not denote excellence; it merely means to have a reflective surface, one in which the nameless try to find themselves as they glide toward oblivion. Ignominy is to have no name; for the purposes of today’s fame claiming, even a bad one will do.
A good name, in turn, is worthless if it is not on the tongues of the multitude whose gossipy repetitions translate into the notorious business of celebrification. What kind of name, then, is Dr. Poggioli? What kind of place is the Murder Clinic, where I came across it first?
You don’t need to check into a Clinic to find out that Dr. Henry Poggioli is the name and title of an American psychologist with a penchant for solving crimes committed in places rather more exotic than Ohio, where he earned his PhD. T. S. Stribling came up with the name, the man, and all that befell him. Stribling. Now, there’s another name not much talked of these days. Apparently, even a Pulitzer Prize is no guarantor of a lasting reputation or a prolonged lifespan in print.
On this day, 11 August, 1942, the name Poggioli reverberated in the halls of the Mutual network’s Murder Clinic, itself a by now forgotten institution set aside for the keeping alive of fictional criminologists, if only in the memory of the public. Owing to the efforts of Mssrs. Ellery Queen, who kept publishing Stribling’s stories, Dr. Poggioli still had the benefit of a pulse; but his circulation had been healthier in the 1920s. In the Clinic, Poggioli was somewhat feebly resuscitated by one Herbert Yost, an actor known as Barry O’Moore before pictures and radio began to talk. During his encounter with “The Governor of Cap-Haïtien,” Yost kept stumbling over his lines as if he had come across them for the first time in the very moment they crossed his lips.
His name notwithstanding, the Clinic‘s Poggioli is equipped with little amounting to personality. Heard in the more memorable title role, a black governor beleaguered by the practitioners and believers in voodoo, is character actor Juano Hernandez (whom I recently saw in Trial and Ransom!, two thrillers starring Glenn Ford).
The governor was “quite a guy,” the host of Murder Clinic commented at the conclusion of the broadcast, set aside for a brief interview with the “Voodoo inspector.” “If you don’t mind my saying so,” the man from the Clinic remarked, “I think we should have had him here instead of you.”
Now, I’m not sure whether that trip to the Clinic did Poggioli any good; but a mere six weeks later he was back on the air in ”A Passage to Benares” as dramatized on Suspense (23 September 1942). On that occasion, Paul Stewart infuses him with some vigor, even though Stribling insisted on drugging him and had something altogether different in mind than the character’s well-being, as becomes apparent in the story’s startling conclusion.
As is often the case, the radio served as an introduction, however dubious, to an author and his creation. I followed up the listening experience with the perusal of the first Poggioli story I could lay my hands on. Originally published in 1932, “The Cablegram” was reprinted in the aforementioned anthology Rogues’ Gallery, which previously introduced me to another forgotten pulp hero by the name of Thubway Tham. It was while reading “The Cablegram” that I appreciated Stribling’s creation, his irony and humanity: “[T]here is no tyranny so inescapable and so difficult to prove as that of the police department,” Stribling permits the ostensible villain to proclaim as he outsmarts Poggioli and gets away with it, along with his crime.
Radio did not exactly give detective fiction a bad name, even though it was often accused of doing just that. It was more successful at heralding and advertising than in creating well-crafted whodunits. Provided those amateur sleuths and private eyes had made a name for themselves in print, radio could do much to keep it (or its author’s) in the public ear.
Stribling’s own voice was heard at least once on the air, as you may glean from this clipping. Such promotional efforts are more effective than any good word I could put in here for anyone or thing. Even so, I shall go on flinging those slippery handles into the air, the very element that once turned them into household names. In the days and weeks to come, I am going to concern myself with the more obscure titles in my newly restored library of recordings; that is, with plays, playwrights and personalities as yet unnamed in this journal.
Meanwhile, for another one of Stribling’s radio-readied tales, I refer you to ”Green Splotches,” as adapted for Escape and broadcast on 31 March 1950.