Audio ClassicsÒ Archive

by Martin Grams, Jr.
               Numerous mystery stories and motion pictures of the early twentieth century depicted police officers and detectives as bumbling idiots who, when attempting to apprehend the burglar, would perform a Keystone Cops pratfall before making the arrest. Often overlooking the solution to the crime right under their very noses, this form of stereotyping was common among radio programs as well — but not in Fran Striker’s radio thrillers. Had it not been for the speed of the Black Beauty, The Green Hornet would have been apprehended by the police numerous times on the program -- and the fact the automobile was Reid’s savior was emphasized hundreds of times. Michael Aloysious Axford was a member of the police force during the earliest Manhunters broadcasts, but on The Green Hornet he was the bumbling detective who never realized the elusive Green Hornet was right under his very nose. And his comical misadventures were a favorite among radio listeners.
Warner Lester, Manhunter
               In an effort to combat the popular Eno Crime Club mystery program airing on numerous East Coast radio stations, Fran Striker created Warner Lester, Manhunter, which premiered in the spring of 1932, while Striker was still living at 261 Lexington Avenue in Buffalo. The title character was an independent private investigator who often profited from his adventures by stealing the money of murderers and blackmailers. As the announcer revealed in episode eight: “Lester is neither with the law, or definitely against the law. He occupies a rather peculiar position, on a line that is neither within nor yet without the law. His clever manner of thinking usually brings him the solution of a crime before the police are able to solve it, and he often profits thereby.”
               Introduced in the ninth episode of the series was Michael Axford, chief of police, who assumed Lester was a master criminal and vowed that one day he would catch Lester with the goods. Axford spoke with an Irish accent, smoked cigars and wore a bowler hat. Lester was aided by his secretary, Louise Henderson, who accepted his proposal of marriage in episode 22 and remained his fiancée for the remainder of the series. In the same episode Warner and Axford attempted to frame one another, the attempt ending in a lasting friendship. A few episodes later, Axford was framed for a jewel theft and suspended as chief of police. Thanks to Lester, his name was cleared and Axford was reinstated. Axford, however, dropped a bombshell at the conclusion of the broadcast when he resigned from the force to enter civilian life and help Lester in his investigations. Lester gave up fighting crime for profit, and together they opened an office as detectives in an unofficial capacity. Louise still was the secretary.
               “Warner Lester, the famous radio criminologist, has solved many crimes by the logical working of his mind. He has recently gone into the solution of crime as a profession, where it once was his hobby. With him, sharing his beautiful office, is Michael Axford, former police chief, whose chief work now is assisting Lester.”
                                                                                           (Announcer for Warner Lester, Manhunter)
               Warner Lester, Manhunter was heard from Boston over the Colonial Network and the Yankee Network -- key stations were WAAB and WNAC, both studios owned by John Shepherd, Boston department store owner. Under the direction of Jim Jewell at the Macabee Building in Detroit, contracted through Trendle, Striker supplied copies of the same scripts dramatized from Boston, so WXYZ would offer their own productions with their own cast. *
* For the East Coast broadcasts, the series originated from WIBW with a different cast than the one broadcast from WXYZ.
               Scripted during Striker’s Buffalo, New York, days before joining WXYZ, the radio program ran for 303 episodes, but the character of Warner Lester was heard on a total of 525 radio broadcasts. The series was so popular a spin-off series was created, titled Manhunters, featuring various crime dramas with rotating detective characters such as Peter Thorne of Scotland Yard. The mysteries would occasionally lean toward horror and science fiction with such plots as a mad movie producer using an octopus in a fiendish murder plan involving 3D movies, vengeful ghosts and a curse from ancient kings after scientists uncover an Egyptian tomb. *
* Newspapers of the times also listed the series as Hunters of Men and Man Hunters (two words) but those are apparently inaccurate.
               Given how popular Manhunters was, Trendle planned on using the program to attract an audience for his new series. In January 1933, when The Lone Ranger (not yet titled by Trendle or Striker) was being scheduled for broadcast, he briefly considered having it be a part of the Manhunters program rather than a separate series before deciding to alternate Manhunters and the western in the same Monday through Friday time slot.
               Warner Lester also combated a number of master criminals who would prove a challenge for the detectives. Lester attempts to apprehend “The Ghost Gang” who tunneled into the bank vault from a sanitarium in a three-episode story. In a series of five episodes, Lester attempted to learn the identity of the “Spinner,” a bald-headed woman who used an x-ray machine to cause blindness and plotted bank robberies. In the final confrontation, Axford pulled a gun, shooting her dead and ending the reign of terror.
               Perhaps the most challenging for Lester and Axford was The Crimson Fang Cult, led by Dr. Fang and his daughter. Obviously inspired by the Dr. Fu Manchu series in print and on screen, the crafty oriental used a variety of gimmicks such as a death ray in an attempt to assassinate the secretary of war. The criminal mastermind was so popular Striker wrote a short run radio program lasting 59 episodes titled Crimson Fang. (At one time also titled Manhunters-O-Fangs.) Warner Lester’s attempts to defeat his arch nemesis also led to the kidnapping of Louise, making the cases more personal than professional.
               With each passing year, the character of Mike Axford became more of a bumbling, accident-prone annoyance to Lester, just as he was later portrayed on The Green Hornet. In one episode, with permission from the new chief of police, Axford beats up a criminal behind locked doors. When captured by Dr. Fang and his daughter, Axford is given an injection of concentrated snake venom. Left to die alone, Axford quickly fixes a tourniquet, cutting off the circulation from his arm. This prevented the venom from reaching vital organs long enough for the doctors to flush out the poison. Lester confessed that until that day he never believed Axford thought fast in an emergency. “I am going to eat those words.”
               In a story spanning five episodes, Lester went to Washington to study new methods of crime prevention, leaving Louise and Axford to work together in a number of capers. The series introduced Inspector Martin of the FBI, who took Lester’s place temporarily. Months later, when Lester went on vacation for six consecutive episodes, Inspector Martin returned to help Axford solve murders and jewel thefts. Inspector Martin also combated Dr. Fang on separate occasions and later made a number of cross-over recurring appearances on The Green Hornet radio program.
               During the Warner Lester series, there were some objections from the staff that the character of Michael Axford was too exaggerated -- perhaps too Irish. Trendle decided to drop the character from the program. Jewell arranged for Striker, then in Buffalo, to write an episode during which someone would try to shoot Lester and, in missing, hit Axford instead. Axford, described as Lester’s “associate,” was rushed to the hospital so he could recover from his wounds. For 11 consecutive episodes, Axford was out of the series.
               “Immediately after the broadcast the telephone began to ring,” Dick Osgood recalled. “The next day, hundreds of letters poured in; listeners were inquiring about ‘poor Mike Axford.’ Bouquets of flowers were sent to the station to be forwarded to the hospital. James Jewell milked the situation for all it was worth. He had five or six bulletins broadcast every day as to Mike’s condition. So popular did Axford prove to be that he ‘recovered’ from his wounds and was restored to the series. Characters were real people to listeners in those days.” When actor Jim Irwin suffered a heart attack during The Green Hornet years, Striker reprised the same stunt so Axford would be recovering from his wounds while the actor was doing the same across town.
               Axford was brought back and remained a permanent fixture. To both Striker and Trendle, the former chief of police was more popular than the Warner Lester character. In late 1935, when The Adventures of the Hornet was being conceived, Striker was a permanent staff writer for the Michigan Radio Network, and Trendle informed his employee that Manhunters and Dr. Fang were being canceled. Trendle suggested having the two characters meet in mortal combat and kill off each other. Lester and Louise fought hand-to-hand combat with Dr. Fang on a plane plunging to the ground and the master criminal was finally defeated. Lester and Louise close the series by saying good-bye to Axford as they rush off to get married and retire from the detective agency. Axford promises to carry on, and the announcer informs the audience that Axford will be heard on the new series, The Adventures of the Hornet next Friday, proving comical sidekicks could truly be more popular than the title characters.
               Axford was described as a married man on the program, but his wife was never mentioned by name or appeared as a character, and by the time he debuted on The Green Hornet, any and all mention of his marriage had apparently been dropped from the series. Since Axford lived in Britt Reid’s apartment and on rare occasion fell in love with a woman, it can be determined that he was single.
“The Adventures of The Hornet”
               Those seeking the origin of The Green Hornet by reading the premiere script of the series may be disappointed. The premiere broadcast offered no origin to the masked man. Instead, a character history is revealed through a Simon Legree-styled villain named John Fenwick who runs his factory like a ruthless slave-driver but suddenly has a change of heart, doubling the wages and beginning costly improvements in the working conditions of the factory. His motive was not pure -- he yielded to the pressure of a masked man known as “The Hornet” who threatened to expose his past if working conditions were not improved. After the introduction of Mike Axford to Britt Reid, and Axford’s report from his friends at the police department of a masked man prowling the streets nicknamed “The Hornet,” Reid learns Fenwick was guilty of more than bad working conditions and sets out to pay a second visit to the factory worker to shut him down for good.
               Chronologically, the premiere episode would be considered “chapter two” in The Green Hornet saga, but clearly introduced the characters of Britt Reid, who with the aid of his Japanese servant Kato, set out as a masked vigilante to right a wrong he felt the law was incapable of resolving. The premiere broadcast also serves as Britt Reid’s introduction to Mike Axford and the conclusion of the John Fenwick story.
AXFORD: Well! So you’re the young fellow what’s takin’ over runnin’ o’ The Daily Sentinel, eh? What’d yer father tell yez about me?
BRITT: I can’t fire you.
AXFORD: Oh, but by golly, I’m hopin’ yuh wouldn’t want tuh! Yer father figured that I’d come in handy around the office sometimes.
AXFORD: Well, bein’ as I know all the boys at the police headquarters I could sort o’ help yer crime reporters gittin’ in tuh places an’ outta jams.
BRITT: Go ahead, tell me the rest.
AXFORD: Well . . . uh . . . I . . . I guess that’s about all. I . . . I’ll be tryin’ some o’ this marmalade if yuh don’t mind.
BRITT: Axford, Sentinel reporters have always been able to get into places, and they are not in the habit of getting into jams.
AXFORD: Well I . . . er . . . I . . . that is what I mean, yer father is thought mebbe . . . I . . . I . . .
BRITT: Well?
AXFORD: I guess I will be havin’ an egg after all.
BRITT: What else were you hired for Axford?
AXFORD: Aw now you know how it is, sometimes the lads on a newspaper an’ the cops has little arguments between them that needs ironin’ out an’ . . .
BRITT: One moment. Let me tell you something. There never yet has been a reporter who was broken by a cop, but on the other hand many an unscrupulous cop has been broken by a reporter.
AXFORD: Well uh . . . by golly, these eggs is cooked just swell. I never in all me life ate an egg that ---
BRITT: You hear him Kato?
KATO: Thank you, please.
BRITT: Kato has over two hundred ways of cooking an egg. Now let’s get back to the subject of The Daily Sentinel and your employment.
AXFORD: But what else is they tuh say about?
BRITT: Axford, isn’t it the truth that dad thought I might get myself into a jam, and he knew that I would never tolerate a bodyguard so didn’t he take precautions? Didn’t he express fear that some of the stuffed shirts who have been unstuffy by Sentinel editorials would make an effort to get more or less even by attempting assault on me?
AXFORD: Now Mister Reid, I . . .
BRITT: Didn’t dad tell you not to let me know that your real purpose in being on the staff was to look out for his son and heir?
AXFORD: He . . . he . . . that is . . . I . . . he . . .
BRITT: . . . and isn’t it the truth that while you were employed to supposedly aid the crime reporters, you were actually to guard me?
AXFORD: Now I didn’t tell yez a blasted thing, did I?
BRITT: No you did not, but Axford, I’ve hunted big game in Africa, I’ve engaged in more or less dangerous collegiate sports, I’ve boxed, fenced, sparred and footballed, and I’ve learned to fly my own airplane. I think I can take care of myself.
AXFORD: But it’s only that yer so . . . Er . . . sort uh happy go lucky an’ carefree.
BRITT: I know. They all consider me the playboy without a serious thought. They think I go to The Daily Sentinel office only when there’s nothing else to do. They think me irresponsible and dad’s afraid I’ll walk into the hands of kidnappers or something of the sort.
AXFORD: Aw now Mr. Reid . . . don’t take it that way.
BRITT: I happen to know that dad left the running of The Daily Sentinel in such a way that the details to which I don’t attend, will be attended to by one of the veterans of the staff. If I choose to attend to them, I may do so but otherwise . . .
AXFORD: He was thinking’ of yer own good. And . . . uh . . .
AXFORD: Well . . . and his own peace o’ mind.
BRITT: Never mind. You can’t be fired so you’ll have to be tolerated. As a matter of fact, I think we’ll get along. I think I’m going to like you.
AXFORD: Yeah? Now say, that’s swell!
BRITT: Now there, in this apartment there is a lot more room than is needed by Kato and me. Kato is a fine valet, a dexterous chauffeur, a splendid handyman, and a first class cook. You’ll be quite well cared for here.
AXFORD: Yuh mean yuh want me tuh live here wit yez?
BRITT: At least until you’re acquainted with things and decide to locate elsewhere, yes. It would facilitate your work a great deal, wouldn’t it?
               Thanks to Axford’s detective skills, a second prior offense has been brought to light — Fenwick’s theft of $100,000 from his ex-partner and his framing of Jimmy Carleton for the crime — and Reid decided he had let Fenwick off too easy. Using his gas gun and speedy getaway car, The Hornet reveals Carleton’s innocence while at the same time establishing himself as the masked vigilante the police are seeking. Fenwick met The Hornet face to face, arguing that he improved the working conditions of the factory as requested, but The Hornet explained that things changed since he learned of this second offense.
               The premiere episode also introduced the radio audience to the gadgets of The Green Hornet. The gas gun revealed Britt Reid was not above using firearms, but like The Lone Ranger, he would not resort to inflicting pain or murder. The gas gun was described as emitting a bit of liquid like a toy water pistol and giving Reid the advantage of being silent. It gave an instant but quite harmless nap to the person who received the liquid from it, described in one early episode as “sweet smelling.” In later episodes, Striker had apparently written out the water pistol aspect and replaced it with glass capsules that exploded upon impact, releasing an otherwise harmless gas that rendered victims unconscious (also seen in The Green Hornet Strikes! in 1940). There are a number of later episodes in which villains described a small cloud of gas, which was also depicted on the television series.
               The equivalent of “the great horse Silver” was the black car which The Hornet used to make his getaway. Unlike the cliffhanger serial, comics and television series, Kato rarely drove the Black Beauty on the radio program unless it was necessary, such as luring police away from a scene so The Green Hornet could enter a building under police surveillance or when Kato remained at the wheel so The Green Hornet could make a speedy getaway.
               Instead of silver bullets, The Green Hornet left behind stickers with a hornet insignia at the scenes of their supposed crimes. In later episodes, these stickers were referred to as a “Hornet seal.” Kato also created a hand-carved jade ring. When The Hornet pushed the ring into the ink pad and then onto paper, an image of a Hornet was left behind. Reid accepted the ring gladly and put it to use almost immediately in the sixth broadcast of the series. When visiting a crook late one evening, The Hornet left an imprint on the crook’s pajamas. Use of the ring was dropped after a few months.
A Deeper Study
                James H. Irwin was the first of two actors to play the role of Michael Axford. An old-time vaudevillian and minstrel man of the 1880s, he was stranded with a theatrical troupe in Omaha in 1891.  He entered the brokerage business and remained there until the 1929 crash. Then, desperate for an income during the Depression, he accepted the job of radio actor at station WXYZ in Detroit. Irwin wore a bowler hat, smoked cigars, kept his hair (what little he had) trimmed, and was the only person to play the role of Axford on Manhunters. The Axford character was modeled directly on him.
               On The Green Hornet, Axford constantly attempted to prove his worth as a reporter to Britt Reid, unaware he was a constant thorn in the side of both Reid and Miss Case (whom Axford later referred to as “Casey”). Most notable was his habit of slamming the door when entering or leaving Reid’s office, no matter how many times Miss Case or his employer asked him to stop.
               Reid allowed Axford to pose as an assistant to the reporters working the police beat, but his real purpose was to serve as a bodyguard for Britt under the senior Reid’s orders. The young bachelor invited Axford to live with him and his Japanese valet Kato, and he gladly accepted. Reid and Kato would sneak out of the apartment through a secret passageway only when Axford retired for the evening or went out on the town for various reasons. (Any mention of Axford residing in Reid’s apartment had been dropped by the later episodes; Striker assumed the radio audience by that time needed no reminder.)
               It didn’t take Clicker Binney long to discover Axford’s faults, as evident in “Hook, Line and Sinker” (March 30, 1939).
CLICKER: He thinks! Gosh! That palooka has more theories than a watermelon has seeds. Just what is his job with The Daily Sentinel?
CASE: He’s really a bodyguard for Britt Reid.
CLICKER: Bodyguard! Then what business has he in messing around with our stuff? He’s doubled Gunnigan’s blood pressure with the stories he’s tried to have accepted, and he has the dark room crew in a dither, trying to work something out of the films he exposes!
               Mike Axford could not swim and was afraid of getting too close to the edge of a high bridge. He once admitted that “I’m a darn good wader.” A former prize fighter called Merciless Michael even before his detective days, he was known for having an uppercut that was applied throughout the series when he combated a number of crooks or when he lost his temper. He was also described as “very muscular.” Not for protection but as an occupational hazard, Axford had a registered Colt Police Positive Special which he carried at all times, but rarely thought to pull out. (His quick thinking and sharp shooting skills protected the life of a police officer in the broadcast of May 18, 1937, as he shot the gun from the killer’s hand, à la The Lone Ranger.) The broadcast of May 25, 1937, revealed Axford’s transportation: a Model T black sedan, New York license plate number 4229.
               Axford’s career with The Daily Sentinel climaxed in December of 1936 when the character was momentarily written out of the program. Reprising the same stunt done previously on Manhunters, Axford is shot and critically wounded. Lying in a hospital bed for a number of broadcasts, the announcer pleaded with radio listeners to submit get-well cards. Detroit Creamery, having just started sponsorship weeks previous, was no doubt impressed by the total number of cards received at flagship station WXYZ.
               The rendition dramatized on The Green Hornet began with episode 89 (December 15, 1936) when Scoop, one of The Daily Sentinel reporters, prints a story about Hector Pemberton of the Saturn Corporation giving out holiday cash bonuses to his employees, a total of $2 million. Savage and Flint, two heavily financed crooks, have made plans to heist the fortune, and both the police and Scoop believe the Green Hornet is behind the robbery. With a heavy armored car and a few machine guns, the thieves shoot and kill their informant, Dan Ingalls, confidential secretary to Pemberton. The Green Hornet sets a trap for the thieves, giving away their plot and location, leaving them for the police to arrest. But when Axford arrives with Sergeant Doyle at the scene, a struggle with Savage results in Axford being seriously wounded and rushed to the hospital.
               For three additional broadcasts, Axford remains in the hospital listed in critical condition. Ed Lowry took Axford’s place for episode 90, looking into the cause of a large number of auto accidents. He discovers the Appleton Tire Company has been buying up old tires for junk, stripping the rubber off the old casing and recovering it, allowing the company to sell tires at less than half of the competition’s price. When blown-out tires are proven to be the cause — and not the result — of the accidents, Reid sets out as The Green Hornet to expose the truth. At the beginning of the broadcast, Britt tells the doctor in the hospital, “You understand that if there is anything in the realm of medicine that can be done, money is no object.” The doctor, however, tells Reid that the surgery will be a critical operation. Britt comments to himself, “I never knew . . . never appreciated Mike Axford until now ….” Doctor Richards successfully removes the bullet and Axford is kept sedated under an anesthetic. The announcer closed the broadcast with the following:
ANNOUNCER: Behind the closed hospital door, our old friend Michael Axford fights one of the grimmest battles of his life. A battle for his life. Modern science has done all that can be done for him. We know that every one of his friends would do all they could to help. Here is one way. Put his name on your Christmas card list. A card from you will cheer him up immensely, if he regains consciousness. Just address your greeting to Mike Axford, in care of the hospital ward of the station to which you are listening.
               For the second of Axford’s three absences, the announcer reminded listeners before and after the thrilling adventure that Christmas cards and get-well cards would be gladly accepted.
ANNOUNCER: (opening) Those of you who listened to the previous adventure of the Green Hornet, know that Michael Axford was seriously wounded by a criminal’s bullet and hovered between life and death in the Regency Hospital. To those of you who have been kind enough to send a Christmas card to him, we extend sincere thanks. He has regained consciousness and the friendly greetings, from friends he didn’t realize he had, have aided in no small measure while the best physicians and surgeons fought for the old fellow’s life.
ANNOUNCER: (closing) Poor Michael Axford, he can’t be told how critical his condition is. He thinks that he’ll be out of the hospital by Christmas, but there is doubt that the happy old Irishman will ever leave the white-walled room alive. If you want to be of great aid to Britt Reid, Miss Case and the other loyal friends who are doing all in their power to keep up Axford’s spirit, just send him a Christmas card. A word of greeting from you will mean a lot to the best-hearted fellow in the world. Address Michael Axford, in care of this station.
               Michael Axford never returned to the program until the broadcast of December 29, and the announcer explained that the happy Irishman, having just been sent home from a hospital, was convalescing after a serious gun wound. Britt Reid looks after his friend as Axford retires to bed.
AXFORD: The dirty spalpeen, oh golly. I wish I had me strength back. I’d like tuh be in yer office, in case he was tuh come back, an’ take a clout at him. That I would.
BRITT: Perhaps, when you get your strength back Axford. It’s your bedtime now, however, so turn in.
AXFORD: Aw-w-w I ain’t tired.
BRITT: To bed you go. Remember the doctor’s orders.
AXFORD: (FADING) All right, I suppose I gotta. Good night tuh yez, Reid.
               Axford remained out of the picture for a brief spell, but returned in the broadcast of January 7, 1937. After The Green Hornet attempts to expose a crooked construction job that accidentally killed a number of men at the site, The Green Hornet visits Jordon, is surprised by a number of his hoods, and suffers a bullet wound in the leg. Kato saves his friend and together the men race to Karslake, leading the police on a trail from one house to the other, finding incriminating papers revealing the truth about the construction project. When Axford notices Reid limping, the young publisher claims Kato’s Jiu-Jitsu lessons were the cause, and Axford, having undergone the same treatment once, isn’t any the wiser. (The broadcast of November 19, 1936, opened with Kato teaching Reid Jiu-Jitsu, which Reid then uses to combat Joe Spearman on the broadcast of March 2, 1937.)
               At the end of the drama, the announcer and Axford offer a hearty thanks to the radio listeners.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, before we conclude tonight’s drama, we are going to ask Michael Axford to step out of character for just a moment and express his thanks to the thousands of you who responded to our little request for a card while he was recovering from his wound. Michael Axford.
AXFORD: By golly, now that I’ve got to make a speech, I don’t hardly know what tuh say, but I do want yez tuh know that is sure done an old man a lot of good tuh see that all you folks was thinkin’ of him. I’m goin’’ tuh try to show yez how much I appreciated it by doin’ me level best tuh do me job here as you want it done an’ ---- alls I can say to all of yez who sent me a greetin’ card is thanks to yez, an’ may the good Lord bless yez all.
               One year later, the character of Mike Axford was abruptly written out of the program. Jim Irwin made his final appearance on the broadcast of January 6, 1938. Soon after the broadcast, the actor suffered a stroke, preventing him from reprising the role he was best capable of playing. When the seriousness of Irwin’s medical condition became better known, the Axford character was written out, an explanation given to the audience that he was ordered by the senior Reid to return to the West Coast where the old man was now residing. Irwin’s health did not get better in the coming months. His character was replaced by two new ones, Tom Hawks and Jasper Jenks. Irwin died June 24 of that year. Newspapers reported that fans of the radio program jammed a cathedral for his funeral, and the crowd overflowed into the street.
               It was eight months later, on the broadcast of August 16, 1938, another Irishman, a spitting image of Axford, was introduced and described as a former detective attempting to assist the police in capturing the notorious Green Hornet. The stranger, who remained nameless, failed to accomplish his task, but the broadcast left a momentary tease for the faithful listeners, wondering just who aided authorities in their attempt. Could this have been the return of Mike Axford?
               Less than a month later, on September 1, in the episode “The Man from the West,” a private detective named Marlowe Bates arrives by train, hand-carrying papers for The Daily Sentinel that support Britt Reid’s exposé of a big graft ring in town, promising to blow the lid off city hall, proving there are crooks right in the district attorney’s own office -- and an alliance between certain cops and the underworld. Britt Reid’s father offers his assistance in the form of Marlowe Bates. When two lugs kidnap the private detective, Britt finds himself in a spot with Grant, the assistant district attorney, who wants the young publisher to retract his anti-graft statements in the papers since the proof is missing. Reid starts sweating, facing defeat and ruin as a publisher.
               During the broadcast, the mysterious Irishman who helped aid the police weeks before in setting a trap for The Green Hornet, is working with authorities on another scheme involving Britt Reid’s fingerprints. While Reid was preoccupied with the kidnapping of Grant, during the commercial break, the announcer gave the following explanation:
               Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys -- you’ve been hearing a familiar voice in the last few broadcasts of this program -- a voice greatly reminiscent of the rich Irish brogue of one of the grandest old gentlemen who ever lived in fact or fancy. A man known to you as Mike Axford. If you’ve missed Mike Axford during the past few months -- if you’ve wondered at the absence of the blundering, self-confident old gentleman who was so deeply devoted to Britt Reid, and who served him so loyally -- we can only say that we miss him too. The true explanation you will hear later on in this program.
               Mike Axford has gone west. He’s not coming back. Somewhere he’s at last winning the reward for the honesty, the bull-dog courage, and the deep, sincere loyalty that characterized him in his capacity as Britt Reid’s bodyguard and closest friend. So it is not the voice of Mike Axford that you hear -- but of someone else -- someone whose identity will surprise you as much as it surprises those who knew and loved old Mike. And as time passes, it is inevitable that you will give him the same place in your heart that the original Axford held so long. Who is it? Whose voice is this that brings back so sharply your memories of Michael Axford, the man of action? The next few minutes will tell!
               The next day, with pressure mounting on Reid, Timothy Axford, Mike’s brother, visits The Daily Sentinel and arranges, with the assistance of a police officer, to take Reid’s fingerprints. Reid takes a deep breath, fearing his masked identity would become public, but is surprised to learn the truth. Reid’s old man suspected someone might go so far as to snatch him, and once his identity is verified, the delivery of the real papers and proof is hand-delivered. Grant was a decoy, and old man Reid feared criminals would take advantage and attempt to eliminate the proof.
               Timothy Axford was revealed as Mike’s younger brother, played by an actor named Haggerty, his first name elusive due to the lack of archival preservation and documentation over the decades. For the broadcast of September 6, “The Story Of The Sobsister,” Timothy reveals to Reid that he was a former cop out west, much like his brother. Reid offers him a job as “a sort of special agent” for the paper, using his brother’s desk in Miss Case’s office, using his police training to help the crime reporters, and being a general handyman for Reid. The character of Timothy Axford was featured on the series for a few months in the same capacity as his brother Mike, even residing in Reid‘s apartment. Eventually, however, the character was dropped in April of 1939 with no explanation. *
* Mike Axford, determined to be a crime reporter for The Daily Sentinel, received his own desk, sharing Miss Case’s office, beginning with the broadcast of October 11, 1936. Miss Case was not pleased with the arrangement, unable to cope with the annoying man. When Axford remarks how nice it was of Reid to put a desk in her office for him, Miss Case comments, “It’s the lowest down trick he’s ever played on me.” In the broadcast of February 11, 1937, Britt Reid arranged for a typewriter so Axford can start writing articles.
               In the episode “Pink Lemonade and Tan Bark” (June 22, 1939), Britt Reid comments to Clicker Binney that Timothy Axford left for California and Mike Axford would soon return. Mike Axford arrived at The Daily Sentinel in the episode “Put It On Ice” (July 4, 1939) and returned to his post as if he were never gone. Oddly, it did not take long for Axford to get wounded again. In “Death Strikes A Bargain” (April 3, 1940), a man named Ferraro is wanted by the police for an attempted murder. Toward the end of the drama, Axford has his arm in a sling from his struggle with the gun in Ferraro’s hand.
               With the return of Mike Axford, Gilbert Shea signed on as the second of two actors to play the role. Shea was famous for such great “fluffs” as “That was the Green Hairnet,” a trademark statement that never happened when Jim Irwin played the role. Numerous reference guides say Haggerty was the second man to play the role of Mike Axford, but in reality he played the role of Timothy. After Timothy’s departure, Haggerty continued to play supporting roles on the series, sans the Irish accent. Shea would continue the role until the series concluded in 1952.
               Before taking on the Axford role, Shea had previously played supporting parts of various dialects on The Green Hornet. For the broadcast of July 20, 1937, Shea was Councilman Finch, who was being blackmailed into passing bills that Shirk, a crooked operator of the Brayton Construction Company, needed so he could profit from the sale of subdivisions. Shea also played the recurring role of Hawks on the show in 1938, a short-lived character of only a dozen broadcasts.
               By June 1939, Shea was paid $45 per week covering (according to the contract) an “unlimited number of performances, both commercial and sustaining, without further payment.” By December 1947, he was paid $60 for each Green Hornet episode he appeared on for the role of Michael Axford. In October 1949, his salary changed again with $50 for each episode broadcasting on a sustaining basis, and $60 per broadcast if sponsored.
               Numerous reference guides have cited actors Harry Goldstein, Paul Hughes and [first name elusive] Haggerty among the men to play the role. Haggerty, however, played the role of Timothy, not Mike. And there has been no documents to verify Goldstein or Hughes playing the role of Mike Axford. Goldstein and Hughes certainly played supporting roles on the radio program, but doubtful that they filled in for Shea. If an actor needed time off for surgery or vacation, Striker often wrote the character out of the series, momentarily, so another character would become a temporary substitute.
               In March of 1952, under the direction of Paul Landres, a television pilot produced by George W. Trendle offered a tease of The Green Hornet’s future. Looking towards television as the next phase of The Green Hornet’s career, the pilot was submitted to potential sponsors and networks -- and faced stubborn rejection. Constructed with the lowest budget possible, the pilot proposal was repeatedly rejected under the reasoning that a series of shoe-string productions would not improve the image and reputation of their products. The character of Mike Axford was in the drama, but to this day the actor remains unknown. In 1965, William Dozier successfully signed a contract with Trendle for a series of Green Hornet adventures. Three test films were created for the benefit of Trendle, who had the final say regarding the actors to portray the characters he fashioned on radio for seventeen years. Before Lloyd Gough was hired to play Mike Axford, actor Richard O’Brien had tried out for the role. While he never succeeded, O’Brien would later gain fame for the role of Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
               For Christmas 2010, The Green Hornet returns to the big screen, courtesy of Sony Entertainment. Edward James Olmos, best known for his role of Lieutenant Martin Castillo on television’s Miami Vice, and Admiral William Adama on the recent Battlestar Galactica, signed on for the role of Michael Axford in September of 2009. The movie will be an adaptation of the ’60s television series, not the radio program, but will feature an Irish detective-turned-reporter that premiered on Warner Lester, Manhunter in 1932.
               “He won’t tell me a word, but he’s got somethin’ on the fire fer tonight. The spalpeen looks like a cat that’s been stealin’ cream.”
                                                                                          -- Michael Axford, Sentinel staff
Special thanks to: Terry Salomonson for his assistance with this article.
Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of more than a dozen books on old-time radio and retro television.
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Copyright © 2009 by Martin Grams, Jr.  All rights reserved.  Printed in the United States Of America.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.


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