Created by Jack Webb (1920-82)
Richard L. Breen (1918-67)
and William P. Rousseau (1915-72)
“She drifted into the room like 98 pounds of warm smoke. Her voice was hot and sticky—like a furnace full of marshmallows.”
Pat Novak For Hire was the most successful of three short-lived radio shows that actor actor/writer Jack Webb played a hard-boiled detective, before Dragnet made him a star, and it may have been the best of the trio. It began in 1946, out of San Francisco’s tiny KGO station, with Webb, and later Ben Morris (and later Webb again) starring as PAT NOVAK, and ran for about a year and a half, in its first incarnation.
But Webb was a busy man. He played Novak in the first thirteen episodes, and was then replaced by Ben Morris, although he apparently returned to play Novak at least five more times. But eventually he (and co-creator Richard L. Breen) did leave the initial run of the show, and headed for Hollywood, citing “creative differences,” which had recently become part of the ABC network. Once they arrived in Los Angels, the two ambitious twenty-somethings slapped a little paint on Pat Novak, and sold it to Mutual as Johnny Madero, Pier 23–even though Pat Novak for Hire was still airing on ABC (tiny KGO having been absorbed by now into the fledgling network), with Ben Morris playing the lead.
Lawsuits followed, and Mutual made some major changes to keep ABC happy. But the clone proved popular enough that ABC offered Webb the lead in a new series of Pat Novak for Hire, and lured him away from yet another show, Jeff Regan, Investigator, where he was once again playing a detective. By now, tiny KGO had become part of the ABC network, and so this second series went coast to coast in February 1949, with Webb as Novak. It only lasted until June of that year, though. Meanwhile, Webb was prepping for the release of the Dragnet radio program in 1949.
Confused? So am I.
Along with his team of Richard L. Breen and William P. Rousseau, Webb gave Novak the street-smart, hard-boiled personality the role required. Novak operated out of a small office on San Francisco’s “Pier 19” where he rented boats and cracked wise, but mostly got in and out of trouble. With his alcoholic pal, Jocko Madigan, (the voice of Tudor Owen), Novak followed beautiful dames, got knocked out regularly, and continued to crack wise, but always got the best of his rival, Police Inspector Hellman (Raymond Burr).
After wrapping up a successful weekly case, Novak always ended with the same line: “Well, Hellman asked only one question…” and then Novak would quickly explain the solution, all neat and tidy.
For those who want to hear the show today, five episodes of the Ben Morris version are around and, by some stroke of luck, all of the ones with Webb are available. Check ’em out. By some accounts, the ones starring Webb are some of the toughest, most hard-boiled, perhaps even cynical and nasty of all the private eye radio shows.
And you evidently can’t keep a good dick down. In 2004, Moonstone Comics announced that writer Steven Grant and artist Tom Mandrake would be producing a 48-page one shot entitled (what else?) Pat Novak, for Hire. It promised on “an elderly PI who USED to be the toughest dude in town, and he still believes the hype! He talks that hard-boiled talk, but most folks have no idea what he’s talking about! But there IS a crime that needs to be solved…”
- “She turned and walked out of there. It was the kind of the walk that makes you flip the calendar and find out how far away Spring is.”
- “I began to think about the .32 caliber pistol. It’s a woman’s weapon–well, that doesn’t prove anything. So’s a bread knife if she’s in a bad mood.”
- “You couldn’t track down a live bear in a telephone booth.”
- “Hellmann stood there a moment and smiled–like a guy who’s just killed a landlord.”
- “Sooner or later you get burned, and it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re a man or a mouse. Because down on the waterfront, in San Francisco, they build the traps both ways. Down here, if you reach out to help a panhandler, the guy’ll take your arm and hand you back the dime. I rent boats and deal any place that’ll give a good trade-in on a second-hand soul.”
- “She sauntered in, moving slowly from side to side like 118 pounds of warm smoke.”
- Pat rented boats out of a small office on Pier 19 in San Francisco, and moonlighted as a sort of freelance trouble shooter. A year later, as Johnny Madero, he rented boats out of a small office on Pier 23 in San Francisco, and moonlighted as a sort of freelance trouble shooter. And in 1951, three movies were released starring Hugh Beaumont as Dennis O’Brien, who rented boats out of a small office on Pier 19 in San Francisco, and moonlighted as a sort of freelance trouble shooter.
- PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE
71 30-minute episodes, weekly
Premiere: August 22, 1946
Last episode: January 4, 1948)
Writers: Alex Mason, Richard Breen
Starring Jack Webb (and later Ben Morris) as PAT NOVAK
John Galbraith as Inspector Helmann
Tudor Owen and Jack Lewis as Jocko Madigan
- “Dixie Gillian” (November 24, 1946)
- “The John Brown Gambling Ring” (August 3, 1947)
- “The Bookie Outfit” (August 10, 1947)
- “The Lydia Reynolds Case” (November 23, 1947)
- “Death in Herald Square” (November 30, 1947)
- PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE
20 30-minute episodes, weekly
Premiere: February 13, 1949
Last episode: June 26, 1949
Writers: Richard Breen
Starring Jack Webb as PAT NOVAK
with Jack Lewis (and Tudor Owen) as Jocko Madigan
and Raymond Burr (later John Galbraith) as Inspector Hellman
Guest stars: Francis X. Bushman.
- “The Missing Racehorse” (March 6, 1949)
- “Escape From Prison” (April 2, 1949)
- “Go Away, Dixie” (April 16, 1949.)
- “Pat’s Boat is Missing” (April 23, 1949)
- “Watch Wendy Morris” (April 30, 1949)
- “The Geranium Plant” (May 14, 1949)
- “John St. John” (May 21, 1949)
- “S.S. Calcutta” (June 11, 1949)
- “The Only Way to Make Friends Is To Die” (1949)
- “A Poole of Blood” (2002; It’s That Time Again; by Stephen Jansen)
- PAT NOVAK, FOR HIRE
(2005, Moonstone Comics)
48-page one shot
Written by Steven Grant
Artist: Tom Mandrake