Ben Shaley

Created by Norbert Davis
(1909-1949)

“Shaley was bonily tall. He had a thin, tanned face with bitterly heavy lines in it. He looked calm; but he looked like he was being calm on purpose–as though he was consciously holding himself in. He had an air of hardboiled confidence.”

“Red Goose,” one of Norbert Davis‘ very earliest stories, appeared in the February 1934 issue of Black Mask, and introduced private eye BEN SHALEY.

Ben Shaley is tough enough, as far as private eyes go, working out of Los Angeles, a tall, skinny smart-ass not afraid to use a little muscle to get what he needs. He’s hired by the curator of a museum to retrieve a valuable painting, The Red Goose, painted by Guiterrez about 1523,that was stolen .

It’s a solid P.I. tale, above average for its time, perhaps, and features some nice back-and-forth between Shaley and the various characters (pugs, thugs, a sweet looking dame who’s not as sweet as she loos and his secretary, who knows a blonde when she hears one), but compared to Davis’ later work, it’s relatively dry, lacking the heady blend of hard-boiled action and screwball humour that would become his trademark.

Still, it was a good enough story for then aspiring pulp writer Raymond Chandler, who in later years cited “Red Goose” as one of his inspirations, studying it and attempting to and tried to replicate its tone. Years later, he re-read it and decided it wasn’t quite as good as he’d thought, but it was still pretty damn good.

A second Shaley story appeared a few months later, “The Price of a Dime,” that features a shoot-out on a Hollywood film set and a few revelations about Shaley (he was a racetrack driver whose “nerves went haywire”) to recommend it. Mystery critic Mike Grost credited it with “some pleasant comedy, especially with Shaley’s tart secretary” Sadie and concluded that, although it didn’t make much sense, “the characters, clothes and settings make this tale fun.”

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Davis never wrote another story featuring Shaley, although many of his future private eye characters bore more than a passing resemblance to the hapless gumshoe. And another Guiterrez was a major supporting character in his Max Latin stories.

And then, in 1952, three years after Davis passed away, Suspense, CBS’ live mystery anthology series, broadcast an episode entitled “The Blue Panther” based on “a story by Norbert Davis.” Although it also deals with a stolen painting and boasts a museum setting, it’s not a rewrite of “Red Goose,” although it may have been based on another story.

The investigation continues…

SHORT STORIES

  • “Red Goose” (February 1934, Black Mask) Kindle it!
  • “The Price of a Dime” (April 1934, Black Mask)

TELEVISION

  • SUSPENSE
    (1949-54, CBS)
    260 25-minute episodes
    Black and white
    Broadcast live

    • “The Blue Panther” (October 14, 1952) | Watch it now!
      Based on a character created by Norbert Davis
      Teleplay by Max Ehrlich
      Directed by Robert Mulligan
      Starring Michael Strong as BEN SHALEY
      Also starring Phyllis Brooks, Bruce Gordon, Erik Rhodes, Gina Petrushka, Michael Garrett, Tom Avera, Michael Gazzo, Gene Anton Jr.
      Not exactly essential viewing, but still sort of fun. A nice peek at the early days of P.I. television.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Picture is of Michael Strong as Shaley in “The Blue Panther.”

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