It’s the Celebrity Sleuths Mystery Series, by George Baxt — 13 books, published between 1984 and 1997, with creative titles like The Greta Garbo Murder Case or The Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers Murder Case.
Going by online summaries, it looks like they all have the basic formula of “somebody gets murdered, and a star-studded lineup of Golden Age celebrities, led by the one name-checked in the title, needs to solve it.”
I noted the pattern while shelving people’s returns at the library, but didn’t feel compelled to pull any of them and read further.
And then I saw The Gracie Allen Murder Case, and snapped it up to check out as soon as my shift was over.
The year is 1947, and Gracie Allen is still way too into The Tall Man, starring Rudy and Trudy — a charmingly deadpan parody of The Thin Man‘s Nick and Nora.
In this direct sequel to Gracie Takes Up Crime Solving, Gracie believes there’s a hit out on George…and tracks down the real Rudy and Trudy for help. Because actors are always just like the caricatured versions of themselves they play on-air, right?
Download the episode here, or listen on YouTube, and read the full transcript below.
The year is 1947. The Adventures of the Thin Man is a major hit on the radio; Stepin Fetchit is still a household name, though the actor has backed away from his movie career out of frustration with the racism in the industry; and Gracie Allen is thinking about changing genres.
This is the first of two episodes where Gracie, as a devoted fan of The Tall Man, ventures down into “the underworld” — posing as hardened criminal Gracie Catraz. She’s accompanied by Meredith Wilson (a guy so modest, he once accidentally bumped into a woman and thought “the honorable thing to do” was to marry her), doing his best to be her “moll.”
Download the episode here, or listen on YouTube, and read the transcript below.
The year is 1948. Ballpoint pens are invented but not common, because they cost the modern equivalent of $170 each; “How” being mistaken for “Indian language” is, unfortunately, still considered witty; and Gracie is trying to do something special for George’s birthday.
This is one of my favorite episodes when it comes to the George/Gracie relationship. For once George gets the wrong end of the stick; Gracie gets it too, but a different wrong end (it’s a complicated stick); they both end up thinking the other one is in danger, and are immediately ready to go to the mat for each other.
Download the episode here, watch on YouTube here, or read the transcript below.
The year is 1947. Noir films are fond of name-checking Tehachapi, currently an all-women’s prison; Magnin’s has been bought out, but stores are still using the name; and Gracie Allen is just getting the bills for her Christmas 1946 purchases.
Featuring some truly adorable financial logic (as long as it’s not being applied to your finances, anyway).
Download the episode here, listen on YouTube here, or read the transcript below.
The year is 1947 — specifically, Christmas 1947. Totò is right in the middle of being Italy’s greatest comedian; corporal punishment is still treated lightly enough to come up in casual jokes; and Gracie Allen, for the first and last time in her entire career, has called in sick to work.
Yes, it’s the one and only episode where Gracie’s lines are handled by someone else — the marvelously talented Jane Wyman. (Just a year later, Wyman won the Academy Award for Best Actress, along with the first of her three Golden Globes.)
Download the episode here (this one doesn’t seem to be on YouTube), and read the transcript below. (Previous transcripts.)
There’s a couple question marks left where I couldn’t quite catch a word. If you can tell what they’re saying, please comment and let me know! Continue reading
The year is 1946. Tommy Manville is on his eighth marriage (out of an eventual thirteen); a bunch of modern car brands have been coined, but I don’t recognize any of the cleaning products; and Gracie just had a bad time trying to run a chicken ranch.
Seems like only a partial copy of the chicken-ranch episode survived. This is the still-extant sequel, in which Grassie takes up her next business. (With accidental help from Meredith Wilson and Bill Goodwin.)
Download the episode here, or listen on YouTube, and read the transcript below. (Previous transcripts.)
There’s a couple question marks left where I couldn’t quite catch a reference. If you can tell what they’re saying, please comment and let me know!