Today, I present a selection of Halloween treats–some lighthearted old-time radio episodes that capture an interesting period in the history of Halloween.
(On Tuesday, October 30, I’ll post some Halloween”tricks”–spooky holiday offerings and classic horror stories.)
European immigrants to the United States popularized Halloween celebrations in the late 19th century.
By the turn of the century, there was a move to downplay the scarier aspects of the holiday. According to History.com, “Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes.”
By the 1920s and 1930s, pranks were a big part of the holiday, “often devolving into vandalism, physical assaults and sporadic acts of violence.”
Most of these radio shows date from the 1940s, when trick-or-treating was just beginning to transition into a community-sanctioned, kid-friendly activity. I’m guessing that’s why so many of the adults in these shows seem ambivalent about Halloween–looking back fondly on their own parties and pranks, but wary of letting their children participate in trick-or-treating.
Air Castle, Halloween
Air Castle was a children’s show that ran in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was entirely the work of Baron Keyes, who starred as the “Story Man” and provided voices and sound effects to represent various fanciful characters. This Halloween episode is cute!
October 19, 1933
Martha Meade Society Program, Halloween Parties
This cooking show provides a nice slice of 1930s life. From this and other radio shows, I’ve gleaned that doughnuts were a popular Halloween tradition in the early 20th century.
October 24, 1939
Fibber McGee and Molly, Halloween Party at Gildersleeve’s House
This would be a good starter episode for a new Fibber listener. It’s filled with typical wordplay and punning humor, and most of the classic supporting characters appear.
October 31, 1940
The Aldrich Family, Halloween Prank Backfires
Just about every episode of this family comedy involves a misunderstanding that snowballs out of control. These Halloween hi-jinx are typical.
November 2, 1941
Jack Benny, Halloween with Basil Rathbone
I’m in love with the Jack Benny Program. To really appreciate the series, you need to listen to a long run of consecutive episodes. Characterizations and jokes build from week to week. This is my favorite of several Halloween episodes–Jack annoying his Beverly Hills neighbors is always a win.
October 29, 1944
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Halloween
Guest star Orson Welles is quite amusing, especially when he ad-libs.
October 29, 1944
The Life of Riley, Haunted House
Near the end, this takes a surprisingly sharp turn into patriotic messaging. You’ll have that sometimes in World-War-II-era programs.
October 31, 1944
Lum and Abner, Discuss Halloween Pranks
Lum and Abner has been growing on me lately, and this episode is a cute one.
November 1, 1946
Baby Snooks, Halloween
Fanny Brice’s mischievous Baby Snooks is a natural for Halloween pranks. This episode has a strong start, but a weak finish, in my opinion.
October 29, 1947
Philco Radio Time, Boris Karloff and Victor Moore
Boris Karloff was the go-to guest for variety-show Halloween episodes. Here, he’s the guest of Bing Crosby, and he and Bing actually sing together (along with comedian Victor Moore)!
October 31, 1948
Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Haunted House
I always found the TV version of Ozzie and Harriet bland, but the radio episodes I’ve listened to have been surprisingly chuckle-worthy.
October 31, 1948
Adventures of Sam Spade, The Fairly-Bright Caper
I’m not a huge Sam Spade fan–ditzy Effie gets on my nerves–but this has a nice Halloween flavor.
Oct 31, 1948
Jack Benny, Trick or Treating with the Beavers
This is another good Halloween episode, with an inventive way of bringing the supporting cast into the story.
October 31, 1951
The Great Gildersleeve, Halloween and Gildy Finds a Lost Boy
I’m not the biggest Gildy fan, but this episode has great warmth.
November 7, 1951
The Halls of Ivy, Halloween
I really enjoy this series, which stars Ronald and Benita Colman. Having spent plenty of time in academia, I appreciate the college setting, and the Colmans are just charming.
Oct 29, 1953
Father Knows Best, Halloween Blues
Robert Young’s character is in preachy mode, and the end doesn’t work for me, but this is an interesting look at those changing Halloween customs.
Listen to more old-time radio!