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.
As Halloween approaches, I present more old-time radio versions of Poe stories to entertain you on chilly nights. In this and Part 1 of my Poe playlist, I’ve tried to represent a large range of Poe stories and radio programs.
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
July 11, 1937
“The tell-tale-heart effect, which you heard, was an actual human heartbeat, amplified more than 10 billion times.”—Announcer, Columbia Workshop
NBC Presents: Short Story
“My senses sharpen. Every second makes them sharper. I can hear the rhythmic beating of the old man’s heart…the beating of his heart.”
About These Series: Columbia Workshop was an early radio series that experimented with the new medium’s narrative possibilities. In dramatic radio’s dying days, NBC Presents: Short Story dramatized work by some of the world’s greatest writers. Try to imagine a major TV network airing series like these now (at its own cost—neither of these shows had a sponsor). Columbia Workshop aired on CBS for eight years, but the NBC program didn’t fare as well. According to The Digital Deli Too, the network pre-empted it frequently and ultimately left 11 episodes, including this one, unaired.
Thoughts on These Episodes: Though the sound quality is better on the NBC Presents episode, I prefer the Columbia Workshop version. The voices the NBC protagonist hears—and his reaction to them—become almost comical. In contrast, the voices that cry out from the wind and the rain and walls in the CBS version are eerily effective. The police are none too swift, though. Sample exchange:
Murderer: “You’re laughing at me! You’re torturing me! You’re making believe that you don’t hear so that I’ll confess!”
Policeman: “My dear young man, you’re working yourself into a frenzy. I think we better leave you to yourself.”
“The wind was screaming through the sails like an insane witch on a broomstick.”
About This Series: Many radio series explored horror and suspense. One thing that differentiated The Weird Circle was its source material; it frequently presented “literary” horror stories, including several of Poe’s tales.
Thoughts on This Episode: I’ve tried to read Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only novel-length work, but just can’t plow through it. I think I’m allergic to nautical adventures. I’ve read enough, though, to know that this adaptation takes major liberties with the story. It also abandons the 19th century setting for a modern one. Phrases like “The captain’s nuts!” and “Awww, shut up!” jar in a Poe story. I would still rather listen to this than try to read the novel again, though.
“Minutes…hours…days… Who can say how long it was? It might have been many days before that hideous blade swept so closely as to fan me with its acrid breath.”
About This Series: Suspense billed itself, with ample justification, as “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills.” Extremely popular, it ran for 22 years (1940-1962). For much of that time, it attracted top Hollywood stars, who often got the chance to play roles that contrasted with their on-screen image. By 1957, the show’s star power was diminishing, but it was still presenting outstanding radio drama.
Thoughts on This Episode: Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe—an unbeatable combination! I think this is my favorite Poe story—it’s exciting and has a merciful lack of beautiful dead women. It needs little elaboration to succeed as a radio drama, and Vincent Price (who would star in the Roger Corman film version of The Pit and the Pendulum four years later) gives a good performance.
About This Series: Although not exactly “old-time radio,” CBS Radio Mystery Theater represented the last major gasp of network radio drama. The show ran on weeknights from 1974 to 1982. E.G. Marshall hosted, and radio veteran Himan Brown produced the program.
Thoughts on This Episode: CBS Radio Mystery Theater presented an entire week of Poe stories in January 1975. With about 45 minutes to fill in each episode (not counting commercials), the program had to expand on Poe’s shorter stories.
“Berenice” sticks with the outline of Poe’s story but adds a love triangle and lets us meet Berenice for ourselves; in Poe’s story, we only see her through the narrator’s disordered vision. (The most interesting part of the short story, to me, is Poe’s detailed description of Egaeus’ mental illness. I wondered how modern professionals would diagnose him and found this interesting paper suggesting he was schizophrenic.) The story doesn’t benefit from these additions, but the ending still packs a punch.
Thoughts on This Episode: CBSRMT transports Poe’s plague story to the apocalyptic future that is 1996 (hee) and turns it into an ecological morality play. The morality is confusing, though—I’m a liberal, card-carrying Sierra Club member, and even I don’t understand how the rich capitalist is making the world’s situation worse by protecting his family from the red death. The episode lacks the lurid atmosphere that illuminates Poe’s story, but it’s entertaining as a window into 1970s concerns.