Old-Time Radio Playlist: Christmas, Part 4

draft_lens18469959module153045519photo_1315346042ChildBedThis 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.

Christmas Shopping”
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.

“Christmas Present”

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.

Other old-time radio playlists you might enjoy:

Edgar Allan Poe, Part 1
Edgar Allan Poe, Part 2
Till Death Do Us Part (And That Might Be Sooner Than You Think)


Old-Time Radio Playlist: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

October seems like a good time to enter the eerie world of Edgar Allan Poe. Not only is Halloween approaching, but so is the anniversary of Poe’s death. He died on October 7, 1849, at age 40, from unknown causes.

Radio programs presented Poe’s stories often, and it’s easy to see why. They make exciting listening experiences, painting vivid images in listeners’ imagination.

For this playlist, I have tried to gather the widest number of Poe stories from the widest number of radio programs.

Dim the lights, sit back, and lose yourself in the strange world of Edgar Allan Poe.

“And puzzle they did, these French police, and with them the rest of the world.”

“Rue Morgue Mysteries”
Unsolved Mysteries
About this Series: A syndicated 15-minute show, Unsolved Mysteries aired ostensibly true stories and posited solutions to historical mysteries.
Thoughts on this EpisodeUnsolved Mysteries treats Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as a fictionalized account of a true crime, and the show comes up with a different solution to that crime. Poe’s story, history’s first detective story, didn’t have any basis in fact, however. (He did base a later story, “The Mystery of Marie Roget” on a real New York murder.)
Read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

“Even after two days at sea, death did not destroy that waxen beauty.”

“The Oblong Box”
The Weird Circle
February 18, 1945
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: This show adds a murderous twist to make Poe’s story even more twisted. It’s an enjoyable adaptation, although the acting gets overwrought at times.
Read “The Oblong Box”

“I determined then to even the score, to revenge the desecration of my name, of my family honor.”

“The Cask of Amontillado”
Hall of Fantasy
January 19, 1953
About this Series: This was another radio show dedicated to tales of suspense and the supernatural.
Thoughts on this Episode: We have no big name stars here, but this is a satisfying dramatization of Poe’s tale of revenge.
Read “The Cask of Amontillado”
“And so it happened, that at the end of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the middle of October, I found myself as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the grim and melancholy House of Usher”

“The Fall of the House of Usher”
October 22, 1947
About this Series: Escape was “radio’s greatest series of high adventure,” according to John Dunning’s On the Air. It ran from 1947 to 1954, a sister series to the longer-running Suspense.
Thoughts on this Episode: Paul Frees, who plays the narrator, was one of the most prolific voice actors of the 20th century. People unfamiliar with his radio career may know him as Boris Badenov, Burgermeister Meisterburger, or the host ghost in Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction. His powerful, deep voice brings the dread and decay in Poe’s story vividly to life.
Read “The Fall of the House of Usher”

“You scream with the terror of it! You scream, and scream, and scream!”

“The Premature Burial”
CBS Radio Mystery Theater
January 6, 1975
About this Series: Although not exactly “old-time radio,” CBS Radio Mystery Theater represented the last major gasp of 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: Poe’s story barely qualifies as a story at all—it is mostly a rumination on the horror of being buried alive. And Poe sure can ruminate:
It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs- the stifling fumes from the damp earth–the clinging to the death garments–the rigid embrace of the narrow house–the blackness of the absolute Night–the silence like a sea that overwhelms–the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm–these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed–that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead–these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil.

This episode creates a 45-minute story from an incident that is only briefly described in Poe’s story. It does so pretty well, although I found the third act a bit weak. Keir Dullea, best known for his role in 2001: A Space Odyssey, stars in this episode (and many others in the series).

Read “The Premature Burial”

Other Old-Time Radio Playlists

Old-Time Radio Playlist: London Calling, Part 2

I continue this week with the second part of my Olympics-inspired playlist.


Escape, December 31, 1947
“You are lost in a London fog, uncertain whether the figures looming around you are real or creatures of your imagination. And somewhere in the wet grayness lurks a murderer, from whom you must escape.”
Story: A Canadian soldier, shell-shocked from his World War II service, becomes disoriented on a foggy London evening and encounters a mysterious woman who soon ends up dead.
Based Upon: A short story by Algernon Blackwood, a prolific and influential author of horror fiction.
Notable Cast Members: Bill Conrad, one the best and most ubiquitous actors in old-time radio, plays the soldier. Fellow Generation Xers will remember Conrad best as TV’s Cannon and Jake from Jake and The Fatman. It can be hard, at first, to erase that visual from your mind as you listen to his radio work. His powerful performances soon engage your full attention, however. In my opinion, he did his finest work as Matt Dillon on radio’s Gunsmoke.
Peggy Webber, who plays the mysterious woman, will be familiar to viewers of TV’s Dragnet because she appeared in roughly a zillion episodes. She also worked as a writer, producer, and director in the early days of television, and she helped to found the California Artists Radio Theatre.
About Escape: Escape was “radio’s greatest series of high adventure,” according to John Dunning’s On the Air. It ran from 1947 to 1954, a sister series to the longer-running Suspense. Several things distinguish the two series. First, Suspense had bigger budgets and, thus, big-name guest stars, throughout most of its run. Those big budgets came from sponsors, which Escape didn’t have. This is a plus for the modern Escape listener—you don’t have to hear, or fast-forward through, grating commercials. (Yes, Autolite, I’m looking at you.) Escape tended to use more exotic settings than Suspense and dabbled more in the supernatural. Also, on Suspense things tended to end well; Escape often went for the darker ending. (I wonder how much sponsors, or the lack thereof, had to do with this.) Both series are excellent—they are in my top five favorite radio shows, and which one ranks higher just depends upon my mood.
My Verdict: This is a solid episode. A sense of dread slowly envelops the listener as the fog envelops Conrad’s character, and the ending is satisfyingly chilling.

“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole”

Suspense, December 2, 1948
“By all means, sergeant, let’s talk about…murder.”
Story: A journalist and a police sergeant talk about a serial strangler who’s menacing London. Since the script takes pains to avoid telling us the men’s names, it’s obvious one of them is the deadly Mr. Ottermole.
Based Upon: A short story of the same name by Thomas Burke, an author who specialized in portraying London and its working-class citizens. Burke published “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” in 1931. According to Ellery Queen, “No finer crime story has ever been written, period.”
Notable Cast Members: Vincent Price and Claude Rains star in this episode. Price, of course, was made for creepy tales like this, but it’s Claude Rains who really shines.
About Suspense: 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. William Spier produced Suspense in its best years and, according to Dunning, “personally guided every aspect of the show, molding story, voice, sound effects, and music into audio masterpieces.”
My Verdict: Suspense is another of my top-five shows and an excellent introduction to old-time radio for new listeners. This episode is very good, with a script that keeps you guessing and an outstanding performance by Rains.
Final Fun Fact: Alfred Hitchcock Presents offered a TV adaptation of this story in 1957. You can watch it free via Hulu.

Disaster in London”

Top Secret, August 6, 1950
“I think I will never feel anything again, ever.”
Story: A double agent is collaborating on a scheme to poison the London water supply with deadly bacteria.
Notable Cast Members: Top Secret starred Ilona Massey, or “beautiful Ilona Massey,” as she’s billed here. Nope, I had never heard of her either. She was a Hungarian actress who had a brief movie and television career.
About Top Secret: This NBC spy drama ran for only four months in 1950.
My verdict: This show is interesting. Spies didn’t proliferate in old-time radio the way cowboys and detectives did. Massey’s female spy is not ditzy or dependent on the men surrounding her. She’s a classic spy—world-weary, but brutally efficient. As this episode opens, she’s seeing to it that an enemy agent meets his doom under an oncoming subway train! She shows compassion, however, for the mother of the story’s double agent. This is the first Top Secret episode I’ve heard, and I will definitely seek out more. (Unfortunately, the sound quality is poor.)

“Portrait of London”

The CBS Radio Workshop, July 20, 1956
“This is possibly one of the most lovely views. I thought it was good from Westminster Bridge, but I shall always now think that Big Ben has a very special one. I’m looking directly down on Westminster Bridge, over the Thames. I can see St. Paul’s, and it is the perfect time of day, the end of the day, and the sun is shining.”
About the Episode: Sarah Churchill, actress and daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, narrates a documentary-style tour of London. Her tour includes the London Zoo, where she visits a lion that the Lions Club of America donated to her father; Petticoat Lane Market, where a seller demonstrates small figures of Sir Winston that puff on cigars; a rainy rehearsal for Trooping the Colour; and a trip to the top of the tower that houses Big Ben.
About The CBS Radio Workshop: Coming at the end of the radio era, this was an experimental anthology program that wasn’t afraid to take chances. Dunning quotes CBS Vice President Howard Barnes as saying, “We’ll never get a sponsor anyway, so we might as well try anything.”
My Verdict: This is absolutely charming. The sound patterns and interviews with Londoners and tourists come together to paint a vivid picture of the city. Sarah Churchill was beset by personal problems during the 1950s, but she makes a warm and enthusiastic host here. I’m a lifelong Anglophile, but I’ve only had the privilege of visiting London once. This program made me long to go again.
Google-Worthy References: While visiting Big Ben, Churchill learned that pennies are placed on the clock’s pendulum to adjust its timekeeping for accuracy. I had to know if they still use pennies; they do, although some of the original pennies have been replaced by a five-pound coin that commemorates the 2012 Olympics.
Final Fun Facts: I tried to find out more about Rusty, the lion featured here, to no avail. Rota the lion, presented to Winston Churchill in 1943, is much more well known. Rota died in 1955, so Rusty–whom his keeper says is young–must have been a kind of replacement. (You can see Rota, stuffed, at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida.)
My quest to research Rusty led me to some other interesting destinations. This fascinating article describes Churchill’s attempt to bring a platypus to England, and this vintage London Zoo map has wonderful graphics, including an image of Churchill walking his lion and his kangaroo.