I didn’t post an installment of Spin Again Sunday this week because it seemed too frivolous in light of the tragic events in Connecticut. I’m also dealing with some personal issues this week that are sapping my Christmas spirit. I find, at times like this, that old-time radio can offer a pleasing escape from today’s problems. That’s especially true of Christmas episodes, which often show people finding moments of light in a season of darkness. In that spirit, I present the sixth part of my Christmas OTR playlist.
Cavalcade of America, December 25, 1944
“Roll on, Columbia, roll on.” Story: A USO show somewhere in the Pacific provides the framework for a musical tour of the United States. Notable Performers: Walter Huston narrates this episode. The father of John Huston, he is best remembered for his Academy Award-winning performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Musical Notes: The entire episode revolves around folk music representing various U.S. regions. “Roll On, Columbia,” by Woody Guthrie bookends the program. My Verdict: Corny but cute humor pervades this show, which concludes with an idealistic message about the world that will emerge after World War II.
“Listening to Christmas Carols”
Fibber McGee and Molly, December 22, 1942
“Why, the idea of having Christmas come right in the middle of the holidays—right when everybody is their busiest!” Story: Teeny hangs around the McGees’ house and tries to get a Grinchy Fibber to show some Christmas spirit. Musical Notes: Teeny and her “little friends” sing “The Night Before Christmas.” Interesting History: As usual in Fibber episodes from this era, there are many World War II homefront references.
My Verdict: A fun aspect of this episode is the unusual degree of interaction between Teeny and Molly; Marian Jordan played both characters.
“Room for a Stranger”
Radio Reader’s Digest, December 19, 1946
“The best town, the best people, and the best Christmas I ever knew.” Story: An injured Army officer, headed home for Christmas, learns that his leave has been cancelled. He has just enough time for a Christmas Eve reunion with this girlfriend, but they find themselves stranded with no place to spend the holiday. About Radio Reader’s Digest: This show ran from 1942 to 1948, presenting uplifting stories that had appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine. Notable Performers: Frank Sinatra stars in this comedy-drama. His acting is not fully assured, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind. Musical Notes: Frank sings “Silent Night.” Commercial Curiosities: Sponsor Hallmark advertises a new line a Christmas cards for men—the game bird collection—“masculine as a briar pipe.” My Verdict: This is a nice, simple story (supposedly true) with gentle humor.
Suspense, December 22, 1957
“You’ll never believe me.” Story: A little girl is grieving the loss of her beloved dog and hoping for a puppy for Christmas. She seems to get her wish when a dog literally falls from the sky. Notable Performers: Child actress Evelyn Rudie made a big splash in 1956 when she played Kay Thompson’s beloved imp in the Playhouse 90 story “Eloise.” Since 1973, she has served as co-artistic director of the Santa Monica Playhouse. Interesting History: This episode mentions real Soviet space dog Laika. My Verdict: This story tugs at the heartstrings, repeatedly. I’m a little worried about dad, though—getting an early morning phone call from the president of the United States would certainly be startling, but I’m not sure it should drive you to drink.
Author’s Playhouse, December 21, 1941
“To think, that the voice of childhood has never gladdened our city…the patter of restless little feet never consecrated its streets…and nowhere in Yellowhammer are there roguish, expectant eyes ready to open wide at dawn of the enchanting day…eager, tiny hands to reach for Santa’s bewildering array of gifts…elated, childish voicings of the season’s joy.” Story: This is based on a short story by O. Henry, with a typical surprise ending. Cherokee, a prospector who has struck gold, is planning a Christmas visit to his old friends in a mining camp called Yellowhammer. He’s bringing toys and is ready to play Santa for all the town’s kids. Sadly, the town doesn’t have any. The civic leaders try to borrow some, only to find that parents are reluctant to part with their kids at Christmas. They end up with one cynical kid and things look bleak, until Cherokee and the child discover a deeper connection than anyone imagined. About Author’s Playhouse: This series, which dramatized literary stories, ran from 1941 to 1945. Musical Notes: The Author’s Playhouse theme is from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony; the same piece of music is the melody for Eric Carmen’s 1976 hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.”
My Verdict: This is an entertaining story, and it’s stylized language works to good comic effect.
“Trimming a Tree”
The Jack Benny Program, December 24, 1944
“Those lights were so pretty–especially those two blue ones that kept flashing on and off.” Story: Jack has an electrifying time getting ready for a Christmas Eve gathering at his house. Musical Notes: Larry Stevens sings “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” Rochester makes one of his recurring references to “Blues in the Night.”
My Verdict: A typically enjoyable Christmas episode, with lots of good banter among Jack, Mary, and Rochester.
“Three Wise Guys”
The Whistler, December 24, 1950
“I got a bad case of memories tonight.” Story: Damon Runyon meets the nativity story in a tale of redemption. My Verdict: This is an unusual story for The Whistler, but a satisfying one for Christmas eve.
“The Missing Mouse Matter”
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
“Now I have seen everything.” Story: Johnny has to find a missing mouse who’s been insured for $5,000. Why insure a mouse? He sings! About Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: This show about “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” was the last drama standing when network radio came to its end in 1962. Launched in 1948, it went through several format changes and seven actors as Johnny Dollar. Bob Bailey, who plays the part here, is widely considered the best. Musical Notes: Gulliver the mouse sings “Jingle Bells.” My Verdict: As Christmas episodes go, this one certainly gets points for originality. The ending hits just the right whimsical note.
Other old-time radio playlists you might enjoy:
Halloween, Part 1
Halloween, Part 2
This is the fourth part of my Christmas OTR playlist. I’ll be posting more episodes each Tuesday and Thursday until Christmas.
Read parts one, two, and three of my Christmas playlist.
Archie Andrews, December 13, 1947
“How do I get into these things?” Story: Pretty much every episode of this series could be summarized as “a misunderstanding that snowballs out of control.” This episode actually features several wild misunderstandings that collide at a Riverdale department store. About Archie Andrews: This series was based on characters from Archie Comics. It obviously owes a lot to The Aldrich Family, too, though—Archie’s parents play a much bigger role in this series than they do in the comic books. Some characterizations differ from the comic books, too—this Jughead likes girls. This show is to The Aldrich Family, however, as a Disney channel sitcom is to a half-decent network family comedy. It must have succeeded with its intended audience; it ran in various forms and time slots from 1943 to 1953. The hyped-up kids in the studio audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. Notable Performers: Bob Hastings, who plays Archie, went on to have a long career in television as a character actor and cartoon voice-over performer. He is the brother of Don Hastings, who played Dr. Bob Hughes on As the World Turns for half a century.
My Verdict: I actually chuckled when I listened to this episode the first time, which is a rare experience for me with this series, or even with The Aldrich Family. My amusement stemmed from the way Veronica , and then the floorwalker, assessed Archie. Floorwalkers sure have a negative image in popular culture.
“The Cave” Escape, December 24, 1950
“If I stepped out into that sunlight, I should never be able to find my way back again.” Story: With a flashlight he received for Christmas, a young boy explores a cave and finds an enchanted world of pirates and fair maidens. Notable Performers: John Dehner plays Dan, looking back on his experiences in the cave. Dehner was a gifted and prolific radio actor, whose work included starring roles in Have Gun, Will Travel and Frontier Gentleman and frequent appearances on Escape and Gunsmoke. He was also a ubiquitous character actor in television. Before I got into old-time radio, I knew him only from The Doris Day Show. My Verdict: This episode has an appealing strangeness. I have a feeling that men might especially enjoy it—the fantasy world it conjures up feels distinctly masculine.
“Fibber Misplaces Christmas Money”
Fibber McGee and Molly, December 15, 1942
“And, furthermore, I’m the dumbest, short-sightedest, dim-wittedest, stumblebummedest, empty-headedest, feather-brainedest droop that ever didn’t know enough to come in out of a tornado.” Story: The title sums it up. Musical Notes: The King’s Men perform “White Christmas,” which wasn’t an old standard but a young hit in 1942. Bing Crosby’s recording first topped the Billboard charts in October and spent a total of 11 weeks in the top spot that year. Interesting History: Rationing is a major theme, as it is in many wartime Fibber episodes. As John Dunning writes, “With the exception of The Bob Hope Show, Fibber McGee and Molly was the most patriotic show on the air.” My Verdict: As someone with the “inattentive” form of ADHD, I feel for Fibber here, both in his forgetfulness and his self-recrimination. Wallace Wimple, who appears in this episode, is one of my favorite supporting characters.
“The Hanging Cross”
Have Gun, Will Travel, December 21, 1958
“Sentiments like peace, like goodwill, like love and brotherhood, they’re just words, unless you already know what they mean.” Story: An unpleasant rancher reclaims his son from the Pawnee chief who has raised the boy as his own. Can Paladin help avert violence between the rancher’s party and the Pawnees? About Have Gun, Will Travel: The most unusual thing about this series is that the radio version premiered after the television series became an established hit. The TV show ran from 1957 to 1963, while the radio show ran from 1958 to 1960. Notable Performers: This show was a starring vehicle for John Dehner. (For more about him, see “The Cave,” above.) My Verdict: Like the other CBS “adult Westerns,” Gunsmoke and Fort Laramie, this series often explored themes of tolerance. This story is involving, although the script does make Paladin a bit more preachy than one would expect a hired gunfighter to be.
Tales of the Texas Rangers, December 24, 1950
“Merry Christmas, fellas. Merry Christmas…and God bless you.” Story: A down-on-his-luck bystander almost takes the rap for bank robbery, until the Rangers clear his name and give his family a merry Christmas. About Tales of the Texas Rangers: Running from 1950 to 1952, this was a police procedural series portraying the work of the legendary Texas investigative force. Notable Performers: Film star Joel McCrea, best remembered for his work in Westerns, headlined this series. My Verdict: This episode has a truly heartwarming ending.
“Even though the snow may be artificial out here in Hollywood, the sentiment isn’t at all.”
About the Dinah Shore Chevrolet Show: Popular singer Dinah Shore was a fixture on radio throughout the 1940s; according to the Digital Deli Too, she headlined six different shows. The television era brought her even greater fame. The Dinah Shore Show, sponsored by Chevrolet, premiered in 1951 as a 15-minute, twice-a-week program and became an instant hit. From 1953 to 1955, the Dinah Shore Chevrolet Show also aired on radio. Musical Notes: Songs on the first show include “Let it Snow,” a Rodgers and Hammerstein song called “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” and the pop standard “Teach Me Tonight.” The second show is all Christmas—besides “Sleigh Ride,” it includes “Silver Bells” and a medley of religious Christmas carols. (I wonder if Shore, who was Jewish, felt strange singing those. My Verdict: I like the 15-minute length of these—it allows for several songs but limits the cheesy variety show comedy banter.
“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”
The Great Gildersleeve, December 24, 1944
“The only excuse for the kind of suffering that’s going on, all over the world, is if we can make sure it never happens again…Let’s sing the way we used to when we were at home together, and let’s hope that before so very long, all the peoples of the world will be able to join in with us.” About The Great Gildersleeve: This show, built around a character first heard on Fibber McGee and Molly, was the first successful spinoff. It ran from 1941 to 1957. Story: December 23rd finds Gildy blue. He’s expecting to be the subject of a breach of promise suit, and he thinks his frenemy Judge Hooker will be handling the case against him. When the judge tells him there’s no case, Gildy is finally ready to celebrate Christmas with family, friends, and his two favorite flames. Musical Notes: The cast sings “Joy to the World,” then Harold Peary breaks, um, whatever you would call the fourth wall in radio, and invites the studio and radio audience to join in. My Verdict: Maybe my sinus infection is making me sappy, but I got teary listening to the closing speech and song.
“Christmas Shopping for Perfume and a Necktie,” December 17, 1939
The Jack Benny Program
“You walked in, Sugarfoot. Nobody dragged you.”
Story: usual in the Jell-o era, things ramble a bit before Jack and Mary head out to do Jack’s Christmas shopping. Celebrity Name Droppings: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Jell-o Hell No Suggestion of the Week: Lemon Jell-o with stewed figs and whipped cream. My Verdict: I think most fans prefer the more polished Lucky Strike shows, but I love the freewheeling Jell-o era. The shopping trip has some fun supporting characters, and jokes about Mary’s history with the May Company are always welcome.
“Christmas for Carole”
Suspense, December 21, 1950
“You asked for this, kid. Now do as you’re told.”
Story: A bank teller’s pregnant wife is having complications and needs full-time nursing care. Unable to afford it, the teller decides to take a one- time trip into the criminal world. Notable Performers: Singer Dennis Day, best known as a member of the Jack Benny cast, gives a good dramatic performance. Suspense often enabled actors to stretch their range in this way. Musical Notes: You don’t think you’ll get through this without Day singing do you? He performs “The First Noel.” My Verdict: The story keeps you guessing, and although everything works out a little too neatly in the end, you can forgive such things at Christmas.
“Mailing Christmas Packages”
Fibber McGee and Molly, December 10, 1940
“Our papas all believe in Santa Claus…so why should we tell them any different if it makes them happy?” Story: The McGees wait in line at the Post Office to mail Christmas packages. That’s as much “story” as a Fibber McGee and Molly episode needs. About Fibber McGee and Molly: A top-rated program throughout the 1940s, this series was a creative partnership between performers Jim and Marian Jordan and writer Don Quinn. Absurd comedy, clever wordplay, and a down-to-earth feel were its trademarks.
Musical Notes: The King’s Men’s song is, um, interesting. Celebrity Name Droppings: Fibber mentions Oliver Hardy, Paul Whiteman, and Don Wilson—can you guess what common quality among them that he was citing? Fun Fact: McGee tells Gildersleeve that he once worked for the post office. According to John Dunning’s On the Air, Jim Jordan actually did work briefly as a mailman in Peoria, Illinois. My Verdict: No matter how much Christmas changes, long postal lines endure. The episode’s premise provides amusing ways for the McGees to encounter all the usual secondary characters, including Gildersleeve, Mrs. Uppington, and Teeny.
“Special Christmas Story” Lum and Abner, December 24, 1942
“I’ll say one thing about the folks: In spite of the rationing and the dim-outs and everything, everybody’s doing all they can to keep up the Christmas spirit.” About Lum and Abner: Chester Lauck and Norris Goff created and portrayed the title characters in this long-running comic serial. (They played all the other characters, too.) The show’s authentic rural humor stemmed from its creators’ small-town Arkansas background, and Lum and Abner’s rapport reflected the real-life friendship Lauck and Goff established in their youth. Story: Last-minute shoppers at the Jot ‘Em Down Store are out of luck on Christmas eve, as Lum and Abner become engrossed with an electric train on display. Referencing Radio: Cedric is quite a Lone Ranger fan. My Verdict: This is a cute, schmaltz-free holiday episode.
“I’ll Be Seeing You” Lux Radio Theater, December 24, 1945
“Yes, I think we’ll do just fine…just fine.”
Story: Zack and Mary meet on a train feel an immediate attraction. They spend time together during the Christmas holidays, but each carries a secret burden: Soldier Zack is recovering from shell shock, and Mary is on furlough from prison. About Lux Radio Theater: Dunning calls Lux Radio Theater “the most important dramatic show in radio.” It is certainly the lushest, with big budgets and big stars to re-create stories from the big screen. It aired from 1934 to 1955. Notable Performers: Joseph Cotten and Dorothy McGuire Musical Notes: At Christmas dinner, everyone sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Referencing Radio: Mary makes a joking reference to Life Can Be Beautiful, a soap that ran from 1938 to 1954. Interesting History: The announcer urges housewives to keep saving cooking fats; although the war and rationing had ended, soap manufacturers still faced a shortage of necessary oils. Weird Words of Wisdom: Aunt Sarah has an unusual philosophy—always settle for second-best. My Verdict: Joseph Cotten is one of my very favorite actors, so it’s no surprise that I find his performance outstanding. I’ve been indifferent to Dorothy McGuire’s movie acting, but she impressed me here, too. With just their voices, they both believably convey their characters’ fears and tentative yearnings. Teenage Barbara annoys, but I guess she’s supposed to.
“Five Days Off for Christmas” Night Beat, December 21, 1951
“They say there’s a warmth about Christmas that spreads out like a fan and touches everyone—the holiday spirit, it’s called.”
Story: Reporter Randy Stone is thrilled to get a rare Christmas vacation from work, until he realizes that he has nowhere to go and no one to be with. While feeling sorry for himself, he receives a mysterious invitation. When the boy delivering that invitation gets hit by a car and vanishes, a shaken Randy has a mystery to solve. About Night Beat: In this well written series, Randy Stone looks for human interest stories in Chicago’s darkened streets. Notable Performers: In the 1940s and 1950s, series star Frank Lovejoy was a familiar voice on radio and a familiar face in films like The Hitchhiker. My Verdict: Poor Randy. I’d spend Christmas with him, even if his self-pity makes him act stupid here. I mean, with all the people a reporter meets, why does he decide so quickly that he doesn’t know Kathryn Malloy?
“The Magic Christmas Tree” Our Miss Brooks, December 25, 1949
“Oh, what fun it is to rock with a big, fat drunken cat.”
Story: Alone on Christmas Eve, Connie encounters her Madison High family, first in a fun fantasy sequence and then in reality. About Our Miss Brooks: This popular comedy, built around Eve Arden’s sardonic comedy style as teacher Connie Brooks, ran for nine years on radio and five years on TV. Notable Performers: Besides Arden, the series cast included radio and TV fixture Gale Gordon (Mr. Conklin) and future movie stars Jeff Chandler (Mr. Boynton) and Richard Crenna (Walter). My Verdict: I like Our Miss Brooks, though some episodes are better than others. The high point of this one is the swaggering fantasy-Mr. Boynton and the kiss he shares with Connie—the studio audience reaction is entertaining. As a cat person, I also enjoy Minerva’s role here.
Starting today, I’ll be posting holiday old-time radio episodes every Tuesday and Thursday through Christmas day. I have about 600 to pick from, so let me know if you have any requests!
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, December 19, 1948
“Harriet, dear, there are two times when you’re not supposed to be sensible: Finding a husband and Christmas.” About The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: Ozzie Nelson first found fame as a bandleader. He hired Harriet Hilliard as his girl singer, and the two soon married. They appeared on radio’s The Red Skelton Show for three years before Ozzie developed this family comedy for them. To say it was successful is an understatement—The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on radio from 1944 to 1954 and on television from 1952 to 1966. Story: Having recently made the major purchase of a radio-phonograph, Ozzie and Harriet make the sensible decision to forego buying each other Christmas gifts. If you think they have no trouble sticking to that decision, you’ve clearly never watched or listened to a situation comedy. Notable Performers: Tommy Bernard and Henry Blair play David and Ricky—the Nelson boys wouldn’t start playing themselves until April 1949. Radio stalwart Lurene Tuttle plays Harriet’s mother. Janet Waldo plays Emmy Lou, an annoying teenage character who reflects the late 1940s fascination with “bobby-soxers.” Referencing Radio: The announcer mentions Just Plain Bill, a soap opera that ran from 1932 to 1955. Musical Notes: Ozzie sings a bit of “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” a jazz standard that dates from 1917. (It’ll always be dear to me for inspiring the punch line of Ted Baxter’s knock-knock joke.) My Verdict: Television’s Nelsons never did much for me, but the radio show has a warmth and charm that’s won me over. You probably won’t laugh out loud over this episode, but you might enjoy its pleasant holiday feel.
“The Crosby Family,” December 20, 1950
The Bing Crosby Chesterfield Show “I still can’t understand why parents insist on stifling their kids’ mental development at this time of the year.” About The Bing Crosby Chesterfield Show: Perhaps the most popular performer of his era, Bing Crosby appeared on radio regularly from the 1930s through the 1950s. Chesterfield cigarettes sponsored a 30-minute Crosby show that aired from 1949 to 1952. Notable Performers: It’s strictly a family affair, here—Bing appears with wife Dixie Lee and sons Gary, Dennis, Philip, and Lindsay. Musical Notes: Bing opens the show by singing “Adeste Fideles,” first in Latin and then in English. (During the English version, the studio audience joins in.) Bing and Gary sing a jazzy “Jingle Bells” and a song called “That Christmas Feeling.” Lindsay and Bing croon “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus.” Philip and Dennis sing “The Snowman.” Bing closes the show with “Silent Night.” My Verdict: Great music, and the family banter is more amusing than I would have expected. This program exudes so much holiday warmth that you can almost forget every negative thing you’ve heard about Bing’s family life. Almost.
“Names on the Land,” December 24, 1945
Cavalcade of America
“We hope you liked America, wrapped up in tinsel bright. To each one, Merry Christmas, and to all, a fond goodnight.”
About Cavalcade of America: Sponsored by Dupont, Cavalcade of America aired on radio from 1935 to 1953. It highlighted important stories, from the celebrated to the unsung, in American history. Story: A versifying train conductor leads listeners on an alphabetical journey across America, and his passengers explain the origins of odd place names, from Animus to Zoar. Based Upon: The book Names on the Land by George Rippey Stewart, first published in 1945 and, happily, reissued in 2008. Notable Performers: Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself, plays the train conductor. My Verdict: This is like H.L. Mencken meets Dr. Seuss—and I mean that in a good way. Names have always fascinated me, both personal and place names, and I’ve read and re-read the chapters on names in Mencken’s The American Language. This show is right up my alley. The verse, as performed by Morgan, sparkles. Without any flag-waving, the whole thing evokes a good feeling about the American character. As Matt Weiland wrote about Stewart’s book, it’s a “plea for the triumph of cardinal American virtues: buoyancy and tolerance, curiosity and confidence, love of the land and faith in the future.”
“Christmas Story,” December 23, 1952
“I just want to say that this is the best dog-gone Christmas I ever had.” About Gunsmoke: Radio’s Gunsmoke aired from 1952 to 1961, a forerunner of the popular TV show that ran from 1955 to 1975. The radio version is known for its grittier portrayal of Dodge City and its inhabitants and for the inventiveness of its sound patterns. Story: It’s Christmas Eve and Matt is returning to Dodge City, though he has little hope of making it home for Christmas: He’s 40 miles from Dodge and has lost his horse to a broken leg. A drifter who offers him a ride wants to hear about Christmas, so Matt describes the previous year’s holiday. My Verdict: Gunsmoke is one of my top three favorite radio programs, along with Vic and Sade and The Jack Benny Show. The show’s portrayal of the old West is so dark, though, and its typical body count is so high, that I have to experience the show in small doses. That’s why the Christmas episode is such a relief—it shines like a Christmas tree in the middle of a darkened prairie.
“The English Butler,” December 23, 1945
The Jack Benny Program
“It seems impossible that there could be any more suffering than mankind has just endured, but it is possible and it will happen, if we lose sight of the lessons so bitterly learned. Let us remember that men everywhere are our neighbors and their life and freedom is as precious them as ours is to us.” About The Jack Benny Program: I feel inadequate to explain The Jack Benny Program, and its importance in American radio. I’ve found that the International Jack Benny Fan Club is a good source for information. Story: Jack’s Beverly Hills neighbors the Colmans are making a reluctant appearance at his house for dinner. To impress them, Jack hires an “English” butler with an impenetrable accent. Google-Worthy References: Ronald Colman gets a big laugh when he says, “I’ll never forget when Benny invited us to his house three years ago and we didn’t show up. It made him so angry he wrote a letter to Britain asking for his bundle back.” Bundles for Britain, launched in 1940, was an American charitable program that provided knitted goods and used clothing to British citizens enduring Germany’s bombing. (I can’t resist sharing a passage from Life’s May 19, 1942, issue, which profiled Bundles for Britain founder Natalie Wales Latham: “Energetic and precocious, New England-born Mrs. Latham has been married and divorced twice. It was she who popularized the mother-and-daughter fashion fad which Life reported three summers ago. In 1939, on a vacation after her second divorce, she began thinking about Britain’s plight, noticed that no one seemed to know how to help, said to herself, ‘This is the damndest thing,’ and forthwith started Bundles for Britain.” Notable Performers: Ronald and Benita Colman. Musical Notes: Jack plays, and Ronald Colman mocks, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” Throughout the fall of 1945, competing versions of this Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn postwar hit were duking it out for chart pre-eminence. According to Wikipedia, a recording by Harry James with vocalist Kitty Kallen topped the Billboard charts the week this episode aired. My Verdict: Jack harassing his Beverly Hills neighbors never fails to amuse me. The classy Colmans make the best foils of all for Jack’s pretensions. Their 20 appearances on the Benny show are delightful. This episode offers many pleasures, from “Manchester” to Ronald Colman’s moving Christmas toast. And on Christmas episodes, I don’t even feel the need to fast forward through the soloist’s performance; Larry Stevens’ Ave Maria is lovely.
Enjoy—and let me hear from you. What are your favorite old-time radio Halloween episodes? What’s your favorite show in the suspense or horror genre?
November 7, 1937 Columbia Workshop, The Horla
By early radio standards, this is a good adaptation of a creepy Guy de Maupassant story.
July 11, 1938 Mercury Theater, Dracula
This is faithful adaptation with a great cast: Martin Gabel (if you’ve seen What’s My Line? re-runs, you may remember him as Mr. Arlene Francis), Agnes Moorehead, and, of course, Orson Welles. The Mercury Theater’s actual Halloween episode, The War of the Worlds, might seem more appropriate for this playlist, but I wanted to choose something slightly less well known.
February 20, 1944 The Weird Circle, Frankenstein
Many radio shows adapted Mary Shelley’s story—I picked this version rather randomly. I’d love to hear opinions about the best radio Frankenstein.
October 27, 1947 Quiet Please, Don’t Tell Me About Halloween
“Marry in haste, repent at leisure” takes on new meaning when your spouse is immortal. This is an entertaining episode of Quiet, Please, a series of psychological horror stories that aired from 1947 to 1949. Wyllis Cooper created the show and wrote every episode—an amazing feat, in my opinion. Not every episode is brilliant, but they are all interesting. This episode has a bonus for me as a Guiding Light fan: Charita Bauer, who played Bert on GL, is the female lead.
January 10, 1948 Favorite Story, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
Ronald Colman hosted this series, which presented a classic story each week, supposedly picked by a celebrity. Colman tells us that Alfred Hitchcock picked this classic Robert Louis Stevenson story. Radio stalwart Bill Conrad gives powerful performance in the dual role.
October 31, 1948 Quiet Please, Calling All Souls
This episode has a good story, but the organ music grates—that’s one aspect of old-time radio I just don’t love.
October 31, 1949 Inner Sanctum Mysteries, A Corpse for Halloween
I’m not a big Inner Sanctum fan, and this story loses me a little. It does have compensations, however: Its Halloween setting, its tiger motif (I like anything cat-related), and its star—Larry Haines. As with Charita Bauer, I know Haines from the world of daytime TV drama; he played Stu on Search for Tomorrow for 35 years. He was also a prolific radio actor, and he gives a good performance here as a guy who’s cracking up.
March 14, 1951 NBC Short Story, The Lottery
Long before there was The Hunger Games, there was this classic Shirley Jackson story. No one faces any monsters here; the horror that unfolds is the horror that human beings can inflict on each other when they cling blindly to destructive traditions. Even when you know what’s coming, the end packs a huge punch. The music is appropriately haunting.
October 30, 1976 CBS Radio Mystery Theater, The Witches’ Sabbath
This story doesn’t reference Halloween, but its subject matter suits the holiday. Once again, we encounter Larry Haines as a man cracking under a strain—his performance is even better here than in the Inner Sanctum Mysteries episode above. The conversations between his character and the bartender amused me.