Saturday, October 31, 2015

The War of the Worlds (MERC)

The most famous radio show of all time; Mars invades New Jersey.

As a huge fan of the novel and not much of a fan of Orson Welles, it's tough for me to really love this show. It is undeniably clever in its repurposing of H.G. Wells' concept. Though the adaptation loses all of the subtlety and point of the original, it creates something new, a simulated news-bulletin format that promotes immersion and makes the drama more believable.

The program is famous for allegedly having created a mass panic, though scholars question how much of this real and how much of it was fabricated sensationalism to promote the show and Welles himself. Due to a general lack of commercials and the fact that the first two-thirds of the show was framed as live broadcasts, at least a few individuals were taken in. If you don't listen closely you won't notice some of the impossible shifts in time and geography that expose the gag.

According to some sources, there was widespread outrage in the media following the program. The news-bulletin format was described as deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast and calls for regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.

Mercury Theatre #17
The War of the Worlds
30 October 1938
CBS net. Orson Welles (producer, director, host, performer), Dan Seymour (announcer), H. G. Wells (author), Howard Koch (adaptor), Paul Stewart (associate producer, adaptor, performer: doubles), Frank Readick (doubles), John Houseman (producer, adaptor, script editor), Bernard Herrmann (composer, conductor), Kenny Delmar (quadruples), Ray Collins (triples), Davidson Taylor (production supervisor), Ora Nichols (sound effects), Ray Kremer (sound effects), Jim Rogan (sound effects), John Dietz (sound engineer), Carl Frank (doubles), Richard Wilson (triples), William Alland (doubles), Stefan Schnabel, William Herz, Howard Smith.

Herbert George Wells

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Party for Death (NANW)

Nero sends Archie to a cocktail party where he knows there will be a murder. Archie watches every move, but still misses the clues.

This is a solid example of the series. It has all the Nero Wolfe tropes: Nero as the food-obsessed, house-bound, heavyweight crime fighter; Archie as the girl-obsessed and quick-thinking pawn; the thick-headed police inspector; and, of course, a clever murder to bring it all together.

If you listen closely, you have a fair chance to solve this one before Nero supplies the answer!

New Adventures of Nero Wolfe #17
The Party for Death
16 February 1951
NBC. Sydney Greenstreet, Rex Stout (creator), J. Donald Wilson (producer, director), William Johnstone, Don Stanley (announcer), Mandred Lloyd (writer), Edwin Fadiman (producer), Harry Bartell, Herb Butterfield, Evelynne Eaton, Peter Leeds.

Sydney Greenstreet

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Birds (ESCP)

A family on the English coast fends of an attack by crazed birds.

This is a great episode, despite a bit of echo at the beginning. (It only lasts about 20 seconds and doesn't obscure the dialogue.) The script is closer to du Maurier's story than the Hitchcock movie, and has a different ending than either. The cast is pretty amazing Ben Wright, John Denner, and Virginia Gregg all worked together on Have Gun, Will Travel. Virginia Gregg was probably the most accomplished. She was all over radio drama, doing over 1,200 shows between 1942 through 1979!

Escape #217
The Birds
10 July 1954
CBS. Paul Frees, Daphne du Maurier (author), Robert Wright (adaptor), Leith Stevens (composer, conductor), Virginia Gregg, Ben Wright, John Dehner, Anne Morrison, Anne Whitfield, John Dodsworth, Norman Macdonnell (director).

Daphne du Maurier

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Enormous Radio (CBSW)

A young couple who are avid radio listeners buy a new set with unusual properties.

This episode impresses me every time I listen to it. It's not a happy or pleasant story. But it is a well-crafted tale, by John Cheever and adapted by Antony Ellis, that exposes the depravtiy of the human condition in an unusual way.

There's a bit of a joke at the beginning where the husband says "Don't you want to hear The Workshop? It's a pretty good show." We can only assume he is referencing the series itself, the CBS Radio Workshop.

Escape #16
The Enormous Radio
11 May 1956
CBS. Virginia Gregg, Hans Conried, Antony Ellis (producer, director, adaptor), Stacy Harris, Eve McVeagh, Charlotte Lawrence, Joseph Kearns, Paula Winslowe, Herb Butterfield, Helen Kleeb, John Cheever (author), William Conrad (narrator), George Walsh, Irene Tedrow, Robert Chadwick (special effects), Bill James (special effects), Clark Casey (special effects), Hugh Douglas (announcer).

Hans Conreid

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Typhoon (ESCP)

MacWhirr, the stubborn captain of the steamer Nan-Shan, is seemingly obsessed with trivial matters and blind to the greater dangers around him.

This great sea tale was penned by Joseph Conrad and adapted for Escape by the incomparable script writer Les Crutchfield. The same was true of The Brute, which has been covered earlier in this blog. The characters, in particular, are extremely well drawn.

Escape #4
28 July 1947
CBS net. Frank Lovejoy, Joseph Conrad (author), Les Crutchfield (adaptor), William N. Robson (director).

Les Crutchfield

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pollack and the Porrah Man (ESCP)

A man who disrespects natives in the deep jungle is haunted by his victim.

This is a great little story by H.G. Wells. While Wells' own racial attitudes have been tagged as problematic by modern readers, this tale seems to "stick it" to callous imperialists.

Escape #12
Pollack and the Porrah Man
29 October 1947
CBS. H. G. Wells (author), Barton Yarborough, William Conrad, Luis Van Rooten, John Dunkel (adaptor), William N. Robson (director).

Barton Yarborough

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Little Piece of Rope (SUSP)

Lucille Ball plays a wicked con artist with a useful baby face. She makes her living out of enticing older men and then robbing them, but this time she pics the wrong victim.

Predictable but still good. At the end of the show is a plug for My Favorite Husband, which was the radio drama precursor to I Love Lucy. It's quite funny and features the same basic formula as the hit TV show, but her husband is the charming Richard Denning rather than Ricky Ricardo.

Suspense #311
A Little Piece of Rope
14 October 1948
CBS net. Sponsored by Auto-Lite. Lucille Ball, Harlow Wilcox (commercial spokesman), William Johnstone (commercial spokesman), Paul Frees (announcer), Hy Averback, Berry Kroeger, Anton M. Leader (producer, director), Lucien Moraweck (composer), Lud Gluskin (conductor).

Lucille Ball

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dead Ernest (SUSP)

A cataleptic man involved in an accident appears has a seizure and appears to be dead. His medical alerts are accidentally separated from his body and he is sent to the morgue!

This is a great little tale of suspense. The audience listens as a housewife races to solve the mystery of a note she finds in a sportcoat her husband has just purchased in a thrift shop ... a note that could save Ernest's life.

There is a funy and not-so-subtle moralistic undercurrent to this story. The shop owner who buys the jacket is "Honest Dan" and several careless individuals are called out by the narrator.

Suspense #205
Dead Ernest
8 August 1946
CBS net. Sponsored by Roma Wines. Bob Bailey, Cathy Lewis, Cedric Lester (writer), Elliott Lewis, Jay Novello, Jerry Hausner, Ken Niles (commercial spokesman), Merwyn Gerard (writer), Verna Felton, Wally Maher, Walter Tetley, Will Wright, William Johnstone (announcer), William Spier (producer, director), Lucien Moraweck (composer), Lud Gluskin (conductor).

Cathy Lewis

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Three desperate men plan to rob a liner carrying five million dollars in uncut diamonds and a load of pressurized uranium.

This one is kind of a hot mess. First of all, I'm not too sure about the science of exploding a pile of "pressurized" uranium by firing a bullet into it. I don't think it works like that. Second, this story has a twist ending that totally feels tacked on and nonsensical. Finally, I'm pretty sure the Morris Code signal in the sound effects is not S.O.S. As I recall, S.O.S. is . . . - - - . . .

I cannot recommend listening to this one.

Mysterious Traveler #253
2 May 1950
Mutual net. Ralph Bell, Luis Van Rooten, Roger De Koven, Maurice Tarplin (as "The Traveler"), Robert A. Arthur (writer, producer, director), David Kogan (writer, producer, director), Al Fanelli (organist), Frank Waldecker (announcer).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Behind the Locked Door (MYST)

Explorers blast their way into a blocked cave looking for Aztec relics and find something no one expected.

This was a great concept with poor execution. The sound effects were hammy and the plot almost didn't hold together, but I love the idea. I also don't think the title of the story makes much sense; a pile of boulders blocking a tunnel isn't much of a "door."

Spoilers ahead. This script reminded me some of the movie The Descent (2005). I love the idea of people having been shut up in the cave and then degenerating into albino cave savages. I even think the spine of this story works, the slow unraveling of a mystery punctuated by character deaths. The narrative frame itself is flawed, but provides an interesting ending to the tale. I need to see if Escape used this script because I expect that show's producer/director team would have done it better.

Mysterious Traveler #329
Behind the Locked Door
6 November 1951
Mutual. David Kogan (writer, producer, director), Maurice Tarplin (as "The Traveler"), Robert A. Arthur (writer).

Eddie (ONST)

Melva has an admirer who won't take "No" for an answer!

This tale of a persistent and unbalanced stalker is pretty unnerving, party due to the realistic subject matter. The failure of Melva to call for help will have you pounding your desk in frustration.

On Stage #?
19 March 1953
CBS. Cathy Lewis, Clayton Post, E. Jack Neuman (writer), Elliott Lewis, Frederick Steiner (composer, conductor), George Walsh (announcer), Jerry Hausner, Lud Gluskin, Peggy Webber, Ray Noble (theme composer).

Elliot and Cathy Lewis

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Murder Castle (LOUT)

A man lures young women into his house, constructed according to his own nefarious designs.

Once again we have a individual trapped in a repeating loop of madness. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Oboler is a one-note writer. Sometimes he hits his note more quickly and with more clarity than others, but it's always the same note.

Also, there is no real surprise factor to this story. It broadcasts the direction in which it is traveling at every step. I suppose it was more shocking in 1938. Still ... not a bad listen at all.

Lights Out #?
Murder Castle
16 February 1938
CBS. Sponsored by: Ironized Yeast. Arch Oboler (host), Frank Martin (announcer).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Good Die Young (MYST)

Sandra is a difficult child, deceitful and manipulative, and now her father has brought home a new wife.

This script executes a nice double-blind technique. The father is blind to what transpires between his daughter and his wife. The wife is similarly blind, many times, as to what the daughter says to her father. The audience is privy to all of it, watching the awful girl undermine her stepmother, but unable to do anything about it.

Mysterious Traveler #13
The Good Die Young
27 February 1944
Mutual. Maurice Tarplin (as "The Traveler"), Betty Jane Tyler, Jock MacGregor (director), Doc Whipple (organist), Robert A. Arthur (writer), David Kogan (writer).

Maurice Tarplin

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Gibbering Things (SHAD)

A visit to Aunt Susan leads to an encounter with hideous, gibbering creatures and their mad creator.

This episode marks Bret Morrison's first appearance as The Shadow. If you like melodrama, this will be a great listen for you. Most vintage radio has some degree of melodrama, but The Shadow is one of those shows that really takes it to the next level.

Slight spoiler ahead...

This show is "a bit too much" for me, and yet there are some great moments in it. The whole "human cattle" thing ... shudder.

The Shadow #?
The Gibbering Things
26 September 1943
Mutual. Sponsored by Blue Coal. Alonzo Deen Cole (writer), Ken Roberts (announcer), Bret Morrison, Marjorie Anderson.

Bret Morrison

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Professor and the Puzzle (BX13)

One of Dan's friends writes to him. It seems his fiancé has mysteriously canceled their engagement, following her uncle's suicide, and has promised to marry another man. Dan must figure out why the uncle, a geology professor, committed suicide and why the fiancé changed her mind.

Box Thirteen #21
The Professor and the Puzzle
9 January, 1949
Mutual net origination, Mayfair syndication. Commercials added locally. Alan Ladd, Richard Sanville (director), Rudy Schrager (composer, conductor), Russell Hughes (writer), Sylvia Picker, Vern Carstensen (production supervisor).

Alan Ladd

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Spawn of the Subhuman (DRKF)

A mad scientist kidnaps an opera singer, again, and plans to implant her vocal chords in a gorilla, again.

Ridiculous! (And not in a good way, unfortunately.)

Dark Fantasy #15
Spawn Of The Subhuman
27 February 1942
NBC net, WKY, Oklahoma City origination. Scott Bishop (writer), Tom Paxton (announcer), Ben Morris, Eleanor Naylor Corin, Garland Moss, Muir Hite (as the gorilla).

Ben Morris

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

1984 (TGOA)

In the future, citizens must prescribe to the State's truths or be reconditioned.

1984 is a lot of book to pack into a 50-minute drama, but this production does a fine job of it! Unfortunately, the audio is really rough. Luckily, some sections are better than others and, if you are used to listening to vintage radio, you can get through it without being too distracted to enjoy the drama.

Richard Widmark plays Winston. If you've watched any amount of TV or movies from the 60's and 70's you'll recognize his face. My "favorite" Widmark moment is from Kiss of Death, in which he heartlessly ties an old woman to her wheelchair with an electrical cord and shoves her down the steps. Wow! That's dark.

Theatre Guild on the Air (a.k.a.) U.S. Steel Hour #150
26 April 1953
NBC. Alan Hewitt, George Orwell (author), Kenneth Banghart (narrator), Marian Seldes, Norman Brokenshire (announcer), Richard Widmark (Winston), Robert Readick, Staats Cotsworth, Ronald Long, Florence Robinson, Robert Readick, Lawrence Langner (supervisor), Theresa Helburn (supervisor), Armina Marshall (executive producer), S. Mark Smith (editor), Harold Levey (composer, conductor).

Richard Widmark

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Knock at the Door (LOUT)

A woman murders her impossible mother-in-law, but she refuses to stay dead.

Lights Out episodes are more misses than hits for me. I'm on the fence with this one, though. Oboler's writing is interesting. The stream-of-consciousness, rapid-fire, repetitive dialogue he gives to characters who are "losing it" becomes a familiar rhythm. (State Executioner is a good comparison.) I would put that observation in the plus column. In the negative column are the one dimensional characters. The husband is as impossibly stupid as the mother-in-law is controlling and the wife is cold-blooded. I guess the plot provides the deciding vote, and this is an undeniably creepy story.

According to radio historians, Oboler had a large ego and was a very polarizing individual; he thoroughly impressed some and completely annoyed others. It was common practice not to credit the other talents in Lights Out productions, which could have been the continuation of a precedent set by Willis Cooper (the original creator of the series) or an illustration of the fact that Obolor thought his stories were the real star.

Oboler had a unique style for churning out weekly scripts. To keep up with the demand, he would lie in bed at night, smoking cigarettes and improvising into a Dictaphone. He would even act out all the parts, creating the dialogue on the fly. In this way, he was able to complete a script quickly, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes, though he might take as long as three or four hours. In the morning, a stenographer would type up the recording for Oboler's revisions.

Lights Out #?
Knock at the Door
15 December 1942
CBS. Sponsored by Ironized Yeast. Arch Oboler (host, writer), Frank Martin (announcer), cast uncredited.

Arch Oboler

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Glass Donkey (MARL)

Helen Massy, a woman  that Marlowe used to "go round with," is found dead with a strange bit of glass nearby, the leg of a collectible glass donkey.

These private dick stories are a dime a dozen in vintage radio, but The Adventures of Philip Marlowe stands out for a number of reasons. Obviously the character was featured in a number of classic books, like The Little Sister and The Big Sleep. The scripts by Levitt and Mitchell are obviously not as polished as Chandler's amazing description and dialogue, but the voice talents are fantastic, the audio quality is great, and the plots are multi-layered.

I particularly like the opening lines, repeated for each episode in the series: "Get this and get it straight. Crime is a sucker's road, and those that travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison or the grave. There's no other end, but they never learn."

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe #94
The Glass Donkey
28 July 1950
CBS. Sponsored by Spearmint Gum. Bob Stevenson (announcer), Gene Levitt (writer), Gerald Mohr, John Stevenson, Lawrence Dobkin, Michael Ann Barrett, Norman Macdonnell (producer, director), Raymond Chandler (creator), Richard Aurandt (music), Robert Mitchell (writer), Vic Perrin, Vivi Janis, William Johnstone, William Lally.

Gerald Mohr

Friday, October 9, 2015

Sorry, Wrong Number! (SUSP)

A woman is trying to call her husband but the number is busy, so she asks for operator assistance. Unfortunately, the operator misdials the number and the woman overhears a murder being planned!

This is probably the most well-known episode of the long-running Suspense series. It's great radio, though incredibly frustrating to listen to because of the nature of the story and the (intentionally) shrewish voice of the main character. It's really a brilliant set up, because the goal is to drive the audience to the point where they have no sympathy for the character, played brilliantly by Agnes Moorehead, and then drop the other shoe. The writer, Lucille Fletcher, was inspired by a nosy, obnoxious woman she ran into at the local drugstore.

You might also know Agnes Moorehead as Endora, the witchy mother-in-law from the TV show Bewitched.

Suspense #43
Sorry, Wrong Number!
25 May 1943
CBS. AFRS rebroadcast. Agnes Moorehead, Lucille Fletcher (writer), William Spier (producer), Ted Bliss (director), Lucien Moraweck (composer), Lud Gluskin (conductor), Joseph Kearns ("The Man In Black")

Agnes Moorehead, looking really stressed out!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mars is Heaven (DIMX)

"When the first space rocket lands on Mars, what will we find? Will we be welcomed with open arms or will the Martians treat us as invaders? Only one thing is certain, one day a giant metal ship will take off from Earth to travel through the black philosophies ... the silent gulfs of space, to descend at last into the darkness of the upper Martian atmosphere. And on that day, man will finally know the answers. The day we first land on Mars!"

Thus begins the Dimension X adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Mars is Heaven (1948), a short story later collected as a chapter ("The Third Expedition") in The Martian Chronicles (1950). With the recent news about water on Mars and the release of the movie The Martian (which was a fantastic book, by the way), this one seemed appropriate.

Having said that, this story isn't really about Mars. It's a horror story, which is also timely since Halloween is only a few weeks away.

Spoilers ahead...

As the astronauts land, they discover a small Earth style town populated by the crew's deceased family and friends. Is Mars heaven? Only, the townfolk are not as they appear. Instead, they are dopplegangers that may be a literary analogy for Communist subversion, a theme common in 1950's science fiction. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a story in a similar vein, was written in 1954 and made into a movie in 1956. Also, Bradbury penned Marionettes, Inc. in 1949 and Heinlein wrote The Puppet Masters in 1951, both featuring entities that pose as/replace people. The paranoid message of these stories is clear, don't trust anyone, not even your friends or family. "They" are out to get you! Whether "they" are robots, aliens, or Commies. One of the ongoing subthemes in these stories is the loss of emotion; the entities that replace humans must fake emotion or simply lack it. As if the thing that is the true litmus test of humanity is passion and the ability to emote. You don't have to look very far to find other examples of this premise, such as the character of Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It should be noted that Bradbury was investigated for communist sympathies by the FBI in 1959. So I don't suppose that he was anti-Communist (or pro-Communist for that matter). It was clearly a complicated time in U.S. history.

Dimension X #14
Mars is Heaven 
7 July 1950
Ray Bradbury (author), Ernest Kinoy (adaptor), Wendell Holmes, Peter Capell, Norman Rose (narrator), Albert Berman (music), Bill Chambers (engineer), Van Woodward (producer), Edward King (director), Robert Warren (announcer), Frank Martin ("Wheaties man"), Joel McCrea (guest)

Ray Bradbury

Battleground (LXRT)

This is the story of "the Battered Bastards Of Bastogne," the second squad of the third platoon of "I" company, 101st airborne division. The script follows the squad in the final days of WWII, getting a sampling of their thoughts, feelings, trials, and relationships.

I randomly caught this movie some years ago on late night TCM and was really impressed. It kind of blew my mind that the movie was made in 1949, only four years after the end of the war. America must have still been struggling to absorb what it all meant – the deaths and the victories, the changing political and social landscapes. For that reason, I think it is a very different kind of movie than the war movies made in the ensuing decades. It assumes that movie audiences know the general events of the war and doesn't bother to instruct them much in what is going on, but rather dives straight into a "slice of life" look at the American rank-and-file soldier in Europe.

Most of these Lux Radio productions fall a little short of the corresponding film experiences and this one is no different. One of my favorite scenes from the movie is missing (hint: snowballs). Even so, I listened to it twice. It felt like time traveling in the way that old radio shows often do.

Lux Radio Theater #733
12 February 1951
Sponsored by: Lux. The story was subsequently produced on The Lux Radio Theatre on December 7, 1954. George Murphy, Marshall Thompson, James Whitmore, Ricardo Montalban, William Keighley (host), John Milton Kennedy (announcer), Rudy Schrager (music director), Wally Maher, Gladys Holland, George Neise, Gil Stratton, Henry Rowland, Paul Dubov, Lawrence Dobkin, William Johnstone, Harold Dryanforth, Van Johnson, Edward Marr, Shepard Menken, John Hodiak, Howard McNear, Herb Ellis, Isa Ashdown, Dorothy Lovett (commercial spokesman: as "Libby"), Sally Forrest (intermission guest), Dore Schary (intermission guest: MGM head of production), Robert Pirosh (author, screenwriter), Earl Ebi (director), Sanford Barnett (adaptor), Charlie Forsyth (sound effects).

Battleground, 1949

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The House in Cypress Canyon (SUSP)

A businessman and his wife, having been reloacted to California, happen upon a rental that seems to be the answer to their prayers. Will it be the house of their dreams, or a house of nightmares?

This one honestly made me jump! It probably didn't help that I was listening to it in the dark. The first half is genuinely scary. The second half less so and bit incoherent, though still very disturbing.

Suspense #222
The House in Cypress Canyon
5 December 1946
Sponsored by: Roma Wines. Cathy Lewis, Hans Conried, Jim Backus, Joseph Kearns (announcer), Paul Frees, Robert L. Richards (writer), Robert Taylor, Wally Maher, Howard Duff, William Spier (producer, director), Ken Niles (commercial spokesman), Lucien Moraweck (composer), Lud Gluskin (conductor).

Cathy Lewis, 1948

Tanglefoot (QPLS)

A pair of plumbers do a lot of thinking about flies: how they feed ... how big they could get ... what it would be like to have a big one as a pet. And it's not all speculation!

The descriptive language in this episode is some of the best I have heard in vintage radio drama. The language alone accounts for a lot of its creep factor. Fun and eery!

As with most episodes of Quiet, Please, the audio is a bit rough.

Quiet, Please #103
4 June 1949
Albert Buhrman (organist), Ernest Chappell ("the man who spoke to you"), Jack Lescoulie, William J. McClintock (sound), Wyllis Cooper (host, writer, director)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ghost Hunt (SUSP)

Smiley Smith, a radio personality; Dr. Reeves, a psychic investigator; and Jeff, a wire-haired terrier, resolve to spend the night in a haunted house where four people have commtted suicide – and record the results for rebroadcast.

This broadcast set the stage for the “found footage” movement in horror and it's a solid listen. It sounds more trite now than it should, because of all the shows that have imitated it since. The "real time" nature of it in which it is framed is great and the overall story is solid.

Suspense #346
Ghost Hunt
23 June 1949
Sponsored by Auto-Lite. Ralph Edwards, Joseph Kearns, Paul Frees (announcer), Herbert Russell Wakefield (writer), Walter Newman (adaptor), Anton M. Leader (producer, director), Harlow Wilcox (commercial spokesman), William Johnstone (commercial spokesman), Lucien Moraweck (composer), Lud Gluskin (conductor).

Ralph Edwards