Friday, December 9, 2011

John Wayne’s Forgotten Radio Show

Most John Wayne fans are aware of such John Wayne radio programs as She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, Stagecoach and Pittsburgh (as well as a few more), but not too many are aware that he actually starred in a weekly radio series titled Three Sheets To The Wind, which aired on NBC from February 15, 1942 through July 5, 1942. 

"Three Sheets to the Wind" advertisement, May 1942 issue of Radio and Television Mirror (click to enlarge image)

The thirty-minute weekly show, which ran for 26 episodes, starred John Wayne as private detective Dan O’Brian, and Helga Moray as British Intelligence agent, Joan Lockwood. Both Sharon Douglas and Lee Bonnell also appeared in supporting roles. The show was created by film director Tay Garnett, who had directed Wayne in the 1940 film Seven Sinners (also starring Marlene Dietrich), who had conceived the story in 1933 while filming SOS Iceberg in Greenland. Garnett worked on the story over the next few years, and by 1941 he had developed a film script.

Since Wayne had worked with Garnett during this time (filming Seven Sinners), it is likely that Garnett had spoken to him about the project, and may had even established a tentative agreement with Wayne to appear in the film Three Sheets to the Wind. In 1941, Wayne and Garnett entered into a written agreement, wherein Wayne would star in both the film, and a radio series of the same name. Wayne agreed to appear in the radio series (which would be used as a promotional device to increase interest in the film) for free, in exchange for ten percent of the film’s profits, plus his standard fee for free-lance film work. (a stipulation was made in the agreement that this would hold if the radio show was sustaining, and if sold commercially, then Wayne’s cut would be five percent plus his standard radio salary.)

"Letter of Understanding" between John Wayne and Tay Garnett (click to enlarge image)
The film version of Three Sheets to the Wind was never made, but the radio show was. The story line concerned the luxury steam liner Empress as it sailed on a 180-day cruise from its home port of Southhampton, England. Unfortunately, almost the entire radio series has been lost, with only the first half of the first episode still extant. That brief 15 minutes, however, reveals the mystery and drama that likely permeated the entire the 26 week run.

The first episode, titled The Sultan’s Curse, opens with seven people mysteriously murdered while the Empress is in port. Each of the murders seems to be somehow linked to a fabled (and possibly cursed) black diamond owned by the Sultan mentioned in the title. British Intelligence Agent Joan Lockwood is assigned to the case, but soon finds that American detective Dan O’Brien (posing as a drunken tourist) is also investigating the mystery as well.

This brief, but exciting rarity is contained in the Deluxe Ten-Disc Set, found in the New Frontier Online Store. Just click on the store icon in the sidebar for more information!


  1. This first episode, titled The Sultan’s Curse, stars Brian Donlevy, not John Wayne.

  2. Hi jwp,
    I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. I have heard the program several times, and it is clearly John Wayne and not Brian Donlevy, as detective Dan O'Brien.