A Look at the Duo Who Crafted STRANGE PARADISE
by Curt Ladnier
Just as the roots of most good ghost stories are shrouded in the obscurity of the dark and distant past, it is difficult to trace the precise origins of STRANGE PARADISE. Certainly, the series was the offspring of ABC Television’s unlikely phenomenon DARK SHADOWS, if a somewhat illegitimate progeny. But whose idea was it to follow in ABC’s footsteps with a second full-blown supernatural serial? In all likelihood, the thought originated somewhere in the vicinity of Steve Krantz, the guiding force behind Krantz Films Inc., the production company responsible for STRANGE PARADISE, though this is not a certainty. The earliest concept could just as easily have come from someone in any of the three groups which jointly funded the series’ production, or another source entirely.
One thing is certain, however. Krantz Films ultimately recruited two men to take the notion of a new syndicated series cast in the DARK SHADOWS mold and breathe life into it as a story in its own right. For this task, they chose two men with extensive backgrounds in television, dating back to the earliest days of the medium – two men who had previously worked together on the production of a popular network daytime serial. The duo who actually laid the groundwork and crafted the story of STRANGE PARADISE, created the saga of the Desmond family curse, was the team of Jerry Layton and Ian Martin.
Jerome M. (Jerry) Layton was born sometime around 1915. Little information is available regarding his early life, but he is known to have spent the early portion of his professional career as a sales manager for a large clothing store chain. His remarks for a 1957 newspaper interview concerning his television career reflect the effect his sales background had on his production philosophy. “We’re commercially minded,” he commented, “We can do things for less money, and our shows sell merchandise.”
Around the beginning of the 1940s, Layton left the sales profession to enter the entertainment field, eventually partnering with Wilbur Stark to produce shows for network radio. Wilbur Stark – Jerry Layton Productions proved a successful venture, reaching the airwaves with such early efforts as SCATTERGOOD BAINES, a comedic drama based on the writings of Clarence Budington Kelland.
Late that same decade, Stark-Layton made the jump from radio to the burgeoning medium of television, with the early game show SPIN THE PICTURE (a.k.a. CUT) in 1949. They followed this with a string of series such as: ROCKY KING, INSIDE DETECTIVE (1950), TAG THE GAG (1951), LADIES’ CHOICE (1953), COLONEL HUMPHREY FLACK [a.k.a. THE FABULOUS FRAUD] (1953 Dumont) (1958 CBS), MODERN ROMANCES (1954 – 58), TRUE STORY (1957 - 61), and THE BROTHERS BRANNAGAN (1960 - 61). Over the years Stark-Layton also developed several unsold pilots, including the 1953 effort CHEZ DENISE, a Detroit-based detective series titled JOHNNY EAGER, and 1959’s THE ADVENTURES OF DUNCAN MAITLAND (the story of a blind detective which was successfully adapted for television a decade later as LONGSTREET).
Worthy of note in the history of Wilbur Stark – Jerry Layton Productions, during February and March of 1955, they produced two scripts on their NBC series MODERN ROMANCES (“A Great Man Lay Dying” and “A Long Time Till Dawn”) by then up-and-coming writer Rod Serling who was soon destined for greater fame with his legendary THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Also while producing MODERN ROMANCES, Jerry Layton gave roles to several soon-to-be famous performers, including Lee Remick, Anthony Perkins and Dina Merrill. Other notable actors to whom he gave early breaks in other productions include Mia Farrow, Tony Franciosa and John Cassavetes.
A major change rocked Layton’s life at the threshold of the fresh decade. A dispute arose between Stark and Layton, and the two split professionally in 1960. As a result, Jerry Layton took full control of their New York based operation, the former Wilbur Stark – Jerry Layton Inc, while Stark took over their California based operations, Brad Jacey Inc. and Jody Pan Inc.
This setback scarcely affected the momentum of Layton’s career however, and he actually took the opportunity to stretch his creative muscles a bit, dabbling in television writing, along with his continued producing endeavors. He contributed scripts to his 1960-61 series THE BROTHERS BRANNAGAN, as well as a 1962 episode of ALCOA PREMIERE titled “The Time of the Tonsils”.
A short time later, around 1963, Layton went on to become a producer for ABC’s daytime series THE DOCTORS, a popular serial which would remain in the network’s line-up for nearly two decades. This production also included the talents of future Layton-collaborator, writer/actor Ian Martin.
Sometime around late 1968 or early 1969, Steve Krantz approached Layton about producing a supernatural series similar to DARK SHADOWS for Krantz Films Inc. The result was 1969’s STRANGE PARADISE, co-created by Layton and Ian Martin. Layton’s name remained attached to this project as executive producer until the series’ demise in July of 1970, but his involvement with the production appears to have diminished after Robert Costello was brought on as a producer early that same year.
Also in 1970, Layton became a producer for the daytime serial BRIGHT PROMISE, a drama which remained on the air through 1972. Unfortunately, with the close of this production the remainder of Jerry Layton’s life passes into mystery. Given the prolific nature of his work in the entertainment field during the preceding decades, it seems likely that he passed away sometime in the early 1970s, but this is by no means a certainty. He may have simply retired, or moved on to other pursuits. Regardless of the reason, the world of broadcast entertainment ceased to include the involvement of Jerry Layton, drawing to a close a career which spanned four decades in the medium.
Ian Martin was born April 29, 1912 in Glasgow, Scotland to composer George Henry Martin and actress Violet McRoberts (cited in some sources as Robertson), into a family firmly rooted in the entertainment tradition. In addition to having a musical father and an acting mother, his maternal uncle Edward McRoberts was the founder of the Glasgow Citizens’ Theater, a theatrical company which has continued to thrive into the 21st century.
For years the Martins’ relationship was tempestuous, and sometime in the 1920s Violet left her hard-living husband, taking along her son, to start a new life in the United States. Some years later, Ian Martin won a scholarship to Harvard in 1929, at the age of 17. Unfortunately, that year’s stock market crash and the Depression which followed quickly resulted in the dissolution of his scholarship. After completing only a single subsidized year, Martin turned to acting as a means of supporting himself and funding his continuing education. Not only did he manage to stay afloat during hard times in this manner, but he graduated from Harvard in 1933.
Remaining in the field of drama, Martin soon established himself as a frequent actor on network radio. For literally decades, he appeared on a multitude of shows, including YOUNG DR MALONE (c. 1939 – 55), THE RADIO GUILD (1940), SUSPENSE (1942 – 43, 1959 – 62), MURDER CLINIC (1943), ARCHIE ANDREWS (1946), MOLLE MYSTERY THEATER (1946), SHERLOCK HOLMES (1948 – 49), RADIO CITY PLAYHOUSE (1948 – 49), CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (c. 1948 - 50), MEET CORLISS ARCHER (c. 1948 – 56), CAVALCADE OF AMERICA (1949 – 53), DIMENSION X (1950 – 51), PERRY MASON (1952), TOM CORBETT SPACE CADET (1952), STROKE OF FATE (1953), CBS RADIO WORKSHOP (1956 – 57) and many others.
Also, while pursuing his radio career Martin met fellow performer Inge Adams working at NBC/Rockefeller Center and, after a brief romance, married her in January 1942. With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the military shortly after his marriage, and became a staff sergeant in the Army Air Corps. Luckily for him and his new bride, his performing background helped him garner a stateside post for the duration of the war, stationed in Greensboro, NC entertaining the troops in training.
In 1941, Martin broke into Broadway with a role in the drama ALL MEN ARE ALIKE, the first of seven productions in which he would appear on the Great White Way. Despite the interruption of the war, his stage career went on to flourish, and he landed the lead in FINIAN’S RAINBOW in 1947. His Broadway appearances included: ALL MEN ARE ALIKE (1941), FINIAN’S RAINBOW (1947 – 48), THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (1950), CAPTAIN BRASSBOUND’S CONVERSATION (1951), THE KING OF FRIDAY’S MEN (1951), SPOFFORD (1968), and THE CHANGING ROOM (1973).
As the 1940s drew to a close, and network radio slid into decline, Martin made the transition to the emerging medium of television. His first major role on the small screen was as Uncle Bill in the Dumont Network’s THE O’NEILLS in 1949. Over a span of the next 30 years, Martin is credited with appearing in over 700 separate television productions. He was a regularly featured cast member on such series as: THE O’NEILLS (1949), THE WONDERFUL JOHN ACTON (1953), SEARCH FOR TOMORROW (1953 – 55), EDGE OF NIGHT (1956 – 57), and SOMERSET (1973). He also appeared in non-recurring roles on shows like THE WEB (1952), ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS (1956), THE ALCOA HOUR (1956), HALLMARK HALL OF FAME (1955, 1956, 1967), ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL (1976) and ROALD DAHL’S TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (1981).
During his decades in television, Martin also wrote extensively for daytime soap operas, with credits including: SEARCH FOR TOMORROW (for which he also directed), YOUNG DOCTOR MALONE (1958 – 63), THE NURSES (c. 1965 – 67, head writer), STRANGE PARADISE (1969, series co-creator) and THE DOCTORS (c. 1963 – 81).
Tragedy struck Martin’s life in 1963, when his beloved wife Inge passed away at the early age of 42. Sometime later he married a second time, to actress Joen Arliss, another performer on both television and the stage.
In the following decade, Martin found an opportunity to return to his acting roots when, in 1974, he became involved in Himan Brown’s CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER. He quickly found himself immersed in this radio drama revival, performing on and writing for the series frequently until his death in 1981. During his eight year association with the series, he performed in 253 installments and authored 243 episodes. He was also involved with its shorter-lived sister series THE GENERAL MILLS ADVENTURE THEATER in 1977.
Yet another creative venue opened for Martin when, in 1976, he contributed a novella to Popular Library’s paperback anthology TALES FROM THE CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER. While this horror story, “Time and Again,” became a springboard for further endeavors in the field of prose fiction, it is also the only piece that Martin ever saw published under his own byline. Over the next few years he produced a brief string of gothic novels for Paperback Library, all published under the pseudonym Joen Arliss (actually the name of his second wife). The titles of these efforts include NIGHTMARE’S NEST (1976, reprinted 1979), BELOVED VICTIM (1980), and SHADOW OVER SEVENTH HEAVEN (1980). The remainder of his novels saw print under the same pseudonym, but were released under the Zebra Puzzlers imprint. Their titles were THE LADYKILLER AFFAIR and THE SHARK BAIT AFFAIR. All of these works appear to have been adaptations of scripts which Martin initially wrote for CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER.
After a lifetime of performing on stage, radio, and the small screen, Martin eventually made a pair of brief forays into the realm of feature films during the late 1970s. His only silver screen appearances were small roles in the movies THIEVES (1977) and STARTING OVER (1979). But during this latter portion of his life, Martin primarily devoted his time to a return to the theater. His last stage performance was a supporting role in a 1981 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, for which THE NEW YORK TIMES called Martin’s portrayal “near brilliant.”
Ian Martin passed away in New York City on July 30, 1981 at the age of 69, remaining active in the entertainment world to his final days. He was survived by his six children, at least two of whom followed in the family tradition of show business – sons Christopher (an actor) and Toby (a producer).
So there you have the stories of the men behind the creation of STRANGE PARADISE. Both were quite successful in their time, yet neither is well-remembered today. But their legacy lives on, particularly among STRANGE PARADISE enthusiasts. Anyone who enjoys the story of the Desmond family and its sinister history owes a debt of gratitude to Jerry Layton and Ian Martin.
NOTE: Much of the information on Ian Martin in this article was gleaned from emails passed between myself and Mr. Martin’s son Christopher. I am tremendously grateful for his remembrances of his father, and would like to thank him for his delightful correspondence.
is Strange Paradise?