Mr. and Mrs. North
Mr. and Mrs. North are fictional American amateur detectives. Created by Frances and Richard Lockridge, the couple were featured in a series of 26 Mr. and Mrs. North novels, a Broadway play, a motion picture and several radio and television series.
Mr. and Mrs. North was a radio mystery series that aired on CBS from 1942 to 1954. Alice Frost and Joseph Curtin had the title roles when the series began in 1942. The characters, publisher Jerry North and his wife Pam, lived in Greenwich Village at 24 St. Anne's Flat. They were not professional detectives but simply an ordinary couple who stumbled across a murder or two every week for 12 years. The radio program eventually reached nearly 20 million listeners.
The characters originated in 1930s vignettes written by Richard Lockridge for the New York Sun, and he brought them back for short stories in The New Yorker. These stories were collected in Mr. and Mrs. North (1936). Lockridge increased the readership after he teamed with his wife Frances on a novel, The Norths Meet Murder (1940), launching a series of 26 novels, including Death Takes a Bow, Death on the Aisle and The Dishonest Murderer. Their long-run series continued for over two decades and came to an end in 1963 with the death of Frances Lockridge. The series was unusual in that it was Mrs. North who often solved the cases, while Mr. North was just background much of the time. In his article, "Married Sleuths," Charles L.P. Silet captured the flavor of the novels:
- The Mr. and Mrs. North novels contain carefully crafted puzzles and the Lockridges usually play fair with their readers. The series also features Pam and Jerry's warmly humorous domestic environment and the couple's witty exchanges with the duller members of the police force. Although the Norths remain the focus of the series, the books contain a good deal of political and social commentary, a richly detailed look at the changing life in New York City, as well as glimpses of the outlying suburban counties. Also, the North's stable marriage relationship presents a marked contrast--and a welcome one--to the traditions of the lone detective characteristic of much other American mystery fiction. Even though the Mr. and Mrs. North novels now may appear overly deliberate in their pacing, they still prove wonderful reading as mysteries, and the glimpses they provide of our past social history give them a nostalgic and authentic period flavor. Aficionados of classic crime fiction have always appreciated this long-running series, and new readers should be encouraged to discover this witty and charming couple.
Broadway and film
Albert Hackett and Peggy Conklin had the title roles in the Broadway production Mr. and Mrs. North, which ran 163 performances at the Belasco Theatre from January 12, 1941, to May 31, 1941. Alfred De Liagre, Jr. produced and directed the play written by Owen Davis. In that version, the North's apartment is located on Greenwich Place, realized in a scenic design by Jo Mielziner.
The Owen Davis play became a 1942 MGM movie starring Gracie Allen and William Post, Jr. with Millard Mitchell repeating his role of Detective Mullins from the Broadway production. Others in the cast were Paul Kelly, Rose Hobart and Keye Luke.
In 1946, Mr. and Mrs. North received the first Best Radio Drama Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America (in a tie with CBS's Ellery Queen). The program, which was broadcast once in 1941 and continuously from December 1942 through December 1946 on NBC Radio (for Woodbury Soap), and from July 1947 to April 1955 on CBS Radio (for Colgate-Palmolive), featured Carl Eastman (1941), Joseph Curtin (1942-53) and Richard Denning (1953-55) as Jerry North. Pam North was played by Peggy Conklin (1941), Alice Frost (1942-53) and Barbara Britton (1953-55). In his book, Radio Crime Fighters, Jim Cox wrote that the couple:
- ... who passed themselves off as a publisher and his homemaker-spouse continued to make lighthearted wisecracks as they stepped over bodies in dark alleys and were rendered unconscious by unknown assailants dispensing blows to the head almost every week... The feminine half of the twosome was at least equal to the husband in solving cases that often baffled law-enforcement officers with years of training and practice—except in reading clues. No explanation was given, of course, as to why a couple of misfits could be so successful in their preoccupation while the professionals thrashed about ineffectually."
In 1946, producer-director Fred Coe brought the Owen Davis play to television (on New York City's WNBT) with John McQuade and Maxine Stewart in the leads and Don Haggerty, Joan Marlowe and Millard Mitchell repeating their Broadway roles.
Barbara Britton and Richard Denning starred in the TV adaptation, produced by John W. Loveton, seen on CBS from 1952 to 1953 and on NBC in 1954, sponsored by Revlon cosmetics. Francis De Sales starred in 25 episodes as police Lieutenant Bill Weigand, only his second screen role. Guest stars included Raymond Burr, Hans Conried, Russ Conway, Mara Corday, I. Stanford Jolley, Carolyn Jones, Katy Jurado, Jimmy Lydon, Dayton Lummis, Julia Meade, William Schallert, and Gloria Talbott. Sixteen episodes of the TV series have been released in the "Best of TV Detectives" box set. A larger set of 8 DVDs containing 32 episodes has also been released by Alpha Video Distributors and is featured by the online store www.oldies.com.
Mr. and Mrs. North were resurrected in spirit with ABC's Hart to Hart, the 1979-84 crime drama about a wealthy husband (Robert Wagner) and wife (Stefanie Powers) who spent as much time solving murders and romancing each other as pursuing careers as an industrialist and a journalist, played the crime theme with wry wit reminiscent of the Norths in their heyday. NBC's McMillan & Wife provided a different kind of couple, with the liberated Sally McMillan doing independent investigating as an amateur detective while her husband Mac served as the police commissioner. Sally had more gumption than the conventionally pretty Jennifer Hart and frequently solved cases on her own, making her more like Pamela North.