To radio audiences of the late 1940s, J. Scott Smart – tipping the scales at 270 lbs – was the personification of his character, private detective Brad Runyon aka `The Fat Man’.
His deep bass voice easily conveyed girth in a medium devoid of visual clues, and his personable performances humanized his hard boiled character’s demeanor.
Based, at least loosely, on a Dashiel Hammett character (`The Man’, from Continental Op), Runyon broke ranks with traditional hard-boiled P.I.s of the 1940s who were nearly always portrayed as lean, mean, and as often as not, as sporting a pencil thin mustache.
Although his radio show predated my arrival mid-way through the Baby Boom, I remember my parents talking about The Fat Man, and it’s famous introduction by the narrator, when I was growing up.
There he goes into that drugstore … he's stepping on the scale.
Weight? … two hundred thirty-seven pounds ... fortune - DANGER!
Whooooooo is it? The Fat Mannnnn ….
Although not exactly a big star (weight aside, of course), Jack Smart appeared on Broadway (A Bell of Adano, Separate Rooms) in the 1940s, in movies (albeit often uncredited or in small roles) most famously as The Fat Man.
During the 1930s and 1940s he appeared in so many radio shows he was called `The Lon Chaney of Radio’, including as a regular on all of the incarnations of The Fred Allen Show (Mighty Allen Art Players and Allen's Alley), and documentary series The March of Time.
In 1951, after playing the detective role for five years on the radio, Smart was tagged to play Brad Runyon on the big screen, along with a cast of rising stars; Julie London, Jayne Meadows, and an impossibly young Rock Hudson.
This should have been the pinnacle of Smart’s success, and was hoped to launch a series of movies (ala The `Thin Man’ another Hammett creation), but it was not to be.
After the movie was in the can, but before it was released, Hammett (who in actuality did little but collect royalty checks off the radio show – he reportedly never even listened) was caught up in the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation when he refused to give up names of other activists.
He was jailed briefly, but like so many others, ended up blacklisted in Hollywood.
Shows that were associated with him, like Sam Spade, and The Fat Man, despite their popularity - suddenly found sponsors unwilling to lend their names to his works.
Which probably explains why the only filmed version of The Fat Man has slipped into the Public Domain, and is available on The Internet Archive.
Although obviously not a high-budget movie, this film is surprisingly enjoyable, made even doubly so by the early screen appearances of Hudson, Meadows, and London and a nice comic turn by Marvin Kaplan.
Episodes from the 6 year radio run of The Fat Man are, sadly, in short supply. There are but 7 episodes from the American Series available on the Internet Archive.
J Scott Smart would play the role of `Top Guy’ on TV for one season in 1951, with Ross `Wild Wild West’ Martin as a costar. He returned to the stage in an ill fated production of Waiting For Godot in 1955, after which he retired from acting.
J. Scott Smart spent his remaining years as a productive artist, producing well received paintings, collages and sculptures.
Smart died in 1960 of pancreatic cancer.