Box 13 -- "Archimedes and the Roman" starring Alan Ladd

Saturday, 02 June 2018 15:00 Dave Truesdale

Box 13 (1947-1949) aired "Archimedes and the Roman" on July 31, 1949 as the 50th of its 52 episodes. Box 13 was a production of Mayfair Productions, a company begun by Alan Ladd and Richard Sandville, and was named after a restaurant of the same name owned by the pair. The shows were syndicated to various networks and radio stations who ran them on different days of the week and at different time slots to fit their individual programming. Thus, some shows have differing original air dates and are hard to pin down, especially since a limited block of shows (13 or 26 episodes or more of the 52 total run) might have been picked up years later. So we have the show appearing in 1947-48, and/or 1948-49, cropping up again around 1954, and even into the early 1970s. It was well produced, written, and acted, with quite a few Big Name radio actors appearing in various episodes. It is also one of those shows veering away from the single-track, hard-boiled, noirish detective or P.I. radio shows so popular throughout the 1940s in film and on radio, in that while it kept the noirish element (usually at least one corpse a trademark feature) it also emphasized a strong element of adventure, so that Box 13 is probably best categorized as a noir-adventure series.

The premise of the show has film star Alan Ladd (1913-1964, most recognizable as the hero in the classic 1953 film Shane) as writer/adventurer Dan Holiday. Holiday has retired from his days of writing for a newspaper to write his own fiction, and now to gain ideas for his books has placed an ad in the paper that reads:  "Adventure wanted – will go anywhere, do anything – Box 13." Holiday's personal secretary, Suzy (played by Sylvia Picker, photo at right with Ladd), is in charge of his mail drop, which Holiday checks regularly. While Suzy's character is somewhat ditzy (a not uncommon character in film and radio of the time), she is also quite efficient and adds a nice touch to the show.

"Archimedes and the Roman," though not SF, has a definite SF-sensibility about it, notably in several lines of dialogue. Dan Holiday answers one of the requests he has received through his newspaper ad, one that comes from a small boy and that his personal secretary Suzy can't believe he even considers answering. But he does, and finds himself driving 250 miles to meet the small boy and hear his story (which the boy tells him no one else will believe). One thing leads to another and Holiday finds himself visiting an astronomical observatory sitting atop a mountain in order to discover if the boy's friend is okay, said friend and astronomer having failed to send his daily signal from the observatory to his young friend. What Holiday stumbles into is our story, and proves the boy's concerns to be warranted. So what does the title have to do with this story? You'll have to listen to find out, and chances are you'll learn a little history along the way, to boot. Dan Holiday never knows what he'll find in Box 13, what dangers or adventures may await him from the oft-times misleading requests, and this time the seemingly harmless request stems from the desperate plea of a small boy.

Play Time: 26:56

{A hot July day in 1949 found the neighborhood gang on their way home from the community swimming pool, still not dry in a few places but welcoming the walk home with their trunks rolled up in towels under their arms. Their local newsstand was conveniently right on their way, where they couldn't resist dropping in to grab anything they might have missed on their previous trip. Astounding SF (1930-present, now Analog), though with no cover author names or story titles to entice, still promised something new with a view of a new atomic reactor facility, the nuclear age very much on the minds of the public. Astounding was a monthly in 1949. Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-53) was going in the other direction to grab its target audience, with many a tale of lost worlds or continents with dark, mysterious peoples and magics. It was a bi-monthly in 1949. Startling Stories (1939-55) provided more futuristic settings for its outlandish adventures to keep its core audience happy, and this issue was no exception; it featured a long story by George O. Smith and a reprint from none other than Henry Kuttner. It was also a bi-monthly in 1949.}

         [Left: Astounding, July 1949 - Center: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Aug. 1949 - Right: Startling Stories, July 1949]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.