Candy Matson – Not So Secret Obsession

I have been a fan of radio dramas for as long as I can remember.  My mother used to play them for me on the little AM radio in my bedroom at night, some were supposed to be scary, but most were detective dramas.  Now, with the internet and podcasts and everything, you can find many many radio shows from the 1920’s through the 1970’s available to download or stream.  I am obsessed with several at the moment, they come out weekly and I look forward to listening to them as I fall asleep.  One is Candy Matson, she is one of the only female detective leads that I have come across.  She is quick with the comeback and just a little bit smarter than her male counterparts.  Take a listen some time.

San Francisco tried in the mid-to-late 1940s to be a radio town and the most popular show in the series featured a hard boiled gun-toting private eye who took on the bad guys and talked tough. What made this detective unique?

The Detective was a woman.

The program was created by Marty Masters and the title role was played by his wife, Natalie.  The detective show had been successful in San Francisco before, with Pat Novak for Hire having been a hit.  Having a female private eye allowed Candy Matson to be more than a carbon copy of Novak.

Candy was a fashion plate PI who charged top dollar to maintain her generous clothes budget and swanky apartment.  She was assisted by her sidekick Rembrandt Watson who, in the pilot, was a drunk like Jocko Madigan. In subsequent episodes, he was more of an older eccentric man.

Candy’s love interest was Lieutenant Ray Mallard of the Homicide squad, whose constant desire to watch Westerns and fear of committment annoyed Candy to no end.

While there had been other female detectives on radio such as the soap operatic Kitty Keene and the gimmicky Phyl Cole, there had never been anyone quite like Candy as she often played as tough as the boys, as she came definitely from the hard boiled school of detection.

Candy Matson  was as San Franciscan as the Golden Gate bridge including local landmarks, local businesses, and local celebrities. The show became San Francisco’s most popular series. However,  the show could not obtain a sponsor and the show shifted days and times at will.  It was a West Coast production throughout its two years run.

This is a show that is often taken too seriously and some commentators impose modern mores, viewpoints, and controversies on the stories. One commentator complained about the lack of Asian character in the show’s surviving 14 episodes (although the same commentator hadn’t checked the large number of Candy Matson scripts available at the Thousand Oaks Library.)  This is perhaps because the idea of a female hard boiled eye is considered groundbreaking for the late 1940s and early 50s.

In reality, neither the producers of the program or the fans thought of the show as a great step forward for women. Candy Matson never took itself too seriously. (Although, as Candy became more popular, the show did cast her in a little more serious light.)  The adventures were told in a way that made them fun and winsome whether listening to the show in 1950 or 2011.

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