The Amazing Radio Adventures of Chandu the Magician

Chandu the Magician - OTR - #2Chandu the Magician was “one of the longest running radio adventure serials”. Created by Harry A. Earnshaw and Raymond R. Morgan, the radio series began airing in Los Angeles, California in 1931. The series featured American Frank Chandler as an adventurer who spent several years studying with mysterious yogis in the Far East. Chandler learned occult secrets and gained supernatural skills such as hypnosis, “astral projection, teleportation, and the ability to create illusions” and uses his powers to fight evil in various far-flung locations, “both real and mythical” as Chandu the Magician.

Chandu The Magician started out in a small radio chain with office girl Vera Oldham taking on the job of writing the scripts. Vera’s action packed scripts made Chandu very popular and the series quickly spread across the country. Radio and film star Gayne Whitman (March 19, 1890 – August 31, 1858) was the first Chandu from 1931 until 1935. Then the production packed up, left Los Angeles, and moved to Chicago, Illinois and took on a whole new cast. Howard Hoffman was the new Chandu until the series ended one year later.

The popularity of the crime fighting magician resulted in Chandu exploding on the silver screen in a 1932 movie titled Chandu the Magician starring Edmund Lowe as heroic Chandu and legendary actor Bela Lugosi as villainous Roxor. Chandu returned to the silver screen in 1934’s 12 episode film serial The Return of Chandu. This time around, Bela Lugosi played the magical hero Chandu.

Tom Collins & rest of the cast gaze into the crystal ball

Tom Collins & rest of the cast gaze into the crystal ball

In 1948, Chandu the Magician returned to radio for a new weekday series this time starring Tom Collins as the crime fighting magician. The revival radio series ran until September 6, 1950. By the way, the word “chandu” is actually a word for the “concentrated preparation of opium that can be smoked”. Newspaper and radio commentator, Walter Winchell, certainly got a kick out of that when he reported in 1932 about “a feature called Chandu, which is Hindu-Chinese for an opium preparation. In fewer words — Dope.” The original Chandu the Magician radio series aired 15 minute shows every weeknight in a serial format. The revival Chandu started out with the same 15 minute weeknight serial but, in 1949, it switched to 30 minute shows only once a week. Each of the longer shows had a self-contained storyline.

Frank Chandler as Chandu faced a variety of villains throughout the radio show run. Sometimes the bad guys were evil priests from small secret cults, sometimes criminals looking for hidden treasure. One of Chandu’s most popular nemesis was villainous Roxor whose goal was simply world domination. Also along for the adventures were Frank Chandler’s family: his sister Dorothy Regent, whose husband may or may not be dead or imprisoned by bad guys depending on which radio or film series you are enjoying, and Dorothy’s children Betty and Bob. Chandu also had a love interest, and often damsel in distress, in exotic Egyptian Princess Nadji.

The radio episodes open with rather shrill and tinny music that is supposed to be exotically “Eastern”. The announcer intones in a dramatically low voice: “ Chaaaaaaaaaaan-du…..the Magician!” Some of the shows have a prologue, suitably filled with mystery:
“Since time began, men and women have had strange experiences for which there is no explanation except in the secrets the ancient magicians knew. But for centuries their secrets have been guarded in the hidden places of the Far East. Today, perhaps, Frank Chandler has discovered them. As people say, he is called Chandu the Magician. Can you be sure it isn’t true?”

The adventures are all suitably melodramatic. Women shriek, villains threaten, Princess Nadji gets kidnapped, and Dorothy and her kids repeatedly fall into the clutches of the bad guys and get threatened with death all while Chandu determinedly goes about solving the mysteries. Sometimes he is more crime fighter than magician but in other episodes the storylines get more magical with Chandu whipping out his powers and visiting such exotic locales as the gypsy camp Montabania and even the lost continent of Lemuria.

Chandu the Magician - Director Cyril Armbrister & Veola Vonn as Princess Nadji

Veola Vonn as Princess Nadji, radio director Cyril Armbrister

The Internet Archive has three sources with more than 200 Chandu the Magician episodes for your listening pleasure. I did not have time to listen to all of them but the ones that I did enjoy were all a quick shot of adventure mixed with corniness. Some of this stuff is very dated: exotic Egyptian Princess, evil priests from secret cults, murderous “foreigners”. And of course, the way that Nadji, Dorothy, and the kids are constantly being lost, kidnapped, imprisoned, or threatened with death while Chandu seldom breaks a sweat. But it is all good fun. And since most of the episodes are only 15 minutes or even less, fans can get a Chandu fix that is as quick or long as desired. These would be perfect to listen to in the car on the way to work or coming back from a vacation trip. The audio quality of the episodes I listened to were all very clear although that music is very tinny and shrill and sometimes seemed to go on forever. The episodes even have the original advertisements included so you can learn all about the benefits of laundry soap or get ideas for new radio shows to search out and listen to. I got a hoot out of the Chandu the Magician radio series and I’m looking forward to watching and reviewing the 1934 movie The Return of Chandu in a few weeks. It stars Bela Lugosi who is one of my favorite actors. Bela with magical powers; what could be more fun?

The Internet Archive has three sources for Chandu the Magician. Source #1 has 17 Chandu episodes all from the 1932 original radio show. Source #2 has 100 fun-filled episodes from 1932 and 1933. All of the episodes in Source #1 and #2 run 15 minutes or less. Source #3 has 178 great episodes from the 1948 and 1949 second series run. Just be aware that the first few episodes (the ones with no date showing) are actually episodes from 1949 that are 30 minutes long. Then, staring with the 12th episode, it is back to 1948 and 15 minute long shows. From there it is chronological through 1948 and ending with 1949 and more 30 minute shows. I have no idea why they are organized like that. Wikipedia has a complete episode list. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the mystical adventures of Chandu the Magician.

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