Did a Popular Radio Show Change the Name of the Show and the Lead Character Because of the Blacklist?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: A popular radio series changed the name of the show (and title character) because the novelist who originated the character was blacklisted.

Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade had already found success in novels…

and film (with some help from Humphrey Bogart)…

before gaining radio success, as well, with the 1946 radio serial, The Adventures of Sam Spade, starring Howard Duff as Spade (Duff was largely an unknown in 1946 – within a couple of years he would be famous and married to Ida Lupino!).

The show was sponsored by Wildroot Cream-Oil.

Here is an old ad campaign for the show that appeared in comic books of the time…

Wildroot Cream Oil also used one of Al Capp’s characters in their ads, using the catchphrase, “Get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie!”


This becomes important later.

The show debuted on ABC and then ran on CBS for a few years.

So it’s now 1950, and Hammett has been blacklisted by the government due to his constant protests for civil rights. The show had already removed his name on the credits.

Now, though, Howard Duff, as well, has been getting some inquiries from the House Un-American Activities Committtee.

So Wildroot Cream-Oil decides to cancel the program. Even though it is still popular, they figure that they just don’t need the hassle.

But they don’t want to give up the show ENTIRELY, so they just invent their own “new” radio show called, of course, Charlie Wild, Private Detective – made up of their name and the “Charlie” part of their ad campaigns!

The new show even kept Spade’s secretary, Effie Perrine!!! Just the name changed, basically.

The show was popular enough that they even make a short-lived TV version of the series during the early 1950s that ran on three of the four TV networks of the time (Cloris Leachman played Effie!).

NBC soon decided that THEY were going to keep doing Sam Spade even if Wildroot didn’t want to sponsor the show, but they, too, decided that Duff was too toxic of a lead (he was eventually named in Red Channels, which was basically the guide book for who to blacklist), so they re-launched the series a few months after Wildroot dropped them, but with Steve Dunne playing Spade. It did not last long.

Karmically enough, though, sixty years later, Sam Spade is still a well-known character and Dashiell Hammett is a bit of a legendary figure while Charlie Wild is about as popular as, well, Wildroot Cream-Oil!

The legend is…

STATUS: Basically True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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