Peter Salem

Created by Louis Vittes

Santos Ortega. Any detective he DIDN’T play?

The Mutual radio network aired The Affairs of Peter Salem from New York City from May 1949 to April 1953, but despite this large number of broadcasts, not a single complete episode has apparently survived.

Until, that is, November 2003, when a fragment of one episode, the first five minutes of “The Affair of the Murderous Mirror,” a 1953 episode, was discovered by an Arkansas professor.

And that was all she wrote, until 2007, when a fifteen minute portion of an earlier episode, “The Affair of the Horrible Hitch,” was discovered in the archives of WRVO-FM by Mark Lavonier, the producer and host of an old time radio program, WRVO Playhouse, in upstate New York.

PETER SALEM was a well-spoken and always debonair small-town detective, who lives with his young assistant Marty in “a house by the river,” and regularly used “mental gymnastics” to thwart big-city lawbreakers. It was a decidedly non-violent approach, but it must have appealed to listeners, since it ran for four seasons

It’s a shame no other episodes have turned up–the show was probably pretty good, or at least popular. It certainly featured some top notch talent.

Salem was played by Santos Ortega, one of the most highly sought radio actors at the time, who’d already played Nero Wolfe, Hannibal CobbCharlie Chan, Perry Mason, and Bulldog Drummond on other networks. His young partner Marty was played by Jack Grimes, another popular actor whose voice was seemingly everywhere–at one point in his career, he was appearing regularly on 35 to 40 radio shows a week. Meanwhile, the show was directed and produced by the very talented Himan Brown, and written by Louis Vittes, who’d previously penned scripts for Two on a Clue, Adventures of the Thin Man, The ShadowThe Saint and Mr. & Mrs. North).

Unfortunately, the show suffered from erratic scheduling, which Radio Crime Fighters: More Than 300 Programs from the Golden Age (1997) cites as the reason for its demise. Says the author, Jim Cox, “It could have been one of the strongest and most durable detective dramas in the final decade of radio’s Golden Age

Let’s hope somebody finds at least another few episodes… I’d like to hear a few myself. In the mean time, links to both these clips can be found at Jack French and Jim Widner’s web site, Radio Days.


  • I’m not sure if this was an intentional shout-out or not, but there was an African-American named Peter Salem, from Massachusetts, who was born into slavery,  but later fought in the American Revolutionary War.


    (1949-53, Mutual)
    30-minute episodes
    Premiere: May 7, 1949
    Writer: Louis Vittes
    Director: Himan Brown (who was Mende Brown?)
    Producer: Himan Brown
    Starring Santos Ortega as PETER SALEM
    and Jack Grimes as Marty
    Also starring Everett Sloane, Ann Shepherd, Lius Van Rooten

    • “The Affair of the Horrible Hitch” (December 14, 1949)
    • “The Affair of the Murderous Mirror” (1953)


  • Radio Days
    Jim Widner on the latter’s website offers — for download — five minutes of a 1953 Peter Salem episode entitled “The Affair of the Murderous Mirror,” possibly the only existing fragment still in existence of this OTR show.
  • Santos Ortega: Any Detective He Didn’t Play?
    Appropriately enough, a golden oldie from Jim Widner.
Respectfully submitted by Jack French, with updated information by Kevin Burton Smith.

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