Old-Time Radio Playlist: Halloween, Part 2

Last week I presented some Halloween “treats” from the world of old-time radio—lighthearted holiday episodes. Today, I’m offering a few “tricks”—spooky Halloween episodes and a few classic horror stories.

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.

Enjoy more old-time radio playlists:

Halloween, Part 1

Edgar Allan Poe, Part 1

Edgar Allan Poe, Part 2

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Old-Time Radio Playlist: Halloween, Part 1

Vintage Halloween Postcard from The Public Domain Review

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.

Unknown Date
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!

Old-Time Radio Playlist: London Calling, Part 1

As a fan of old-time radio, I like to organize shows into topical playlists. The recent Olympic games inspired this list of London-themed episodes. (Part 2 of this playlist.)

“Journey for Margaret”


Screen Guild Theater, April 5, 1943
“A man can’t go on feeling forever. There’s a limit. By and by, he finds himself dead. That’s why I can’t get mad; I’m dead.”
Notable Cast Members: Robert Young, who shows off his fatherly side well before Father Knows Best appeared on radio and then TV, and 6-year-old Margaret O’Brien, recreating the movie role in which she made a name for herself, literally and figuratively. Four-year-old actor Billy Severn also appeared—it must have been terrifying for the director to rely upon such young children in a live radio drama. O’Brien does a great job, and Severn is adorable.
About Screen Guild Theater: This was one of several shows that condensed popular movies for radio audiences. At least the better-known Lux Radio Theater had 60 minutes to work with; 30 minute shows like Screen Guild Theater often leave only a sketchy outline of the movie plot. As John Dunning put it in The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, “Screen Guild always seemed like the quick economy tour, jerky and uneven, scenes knit together by thin thread and taxing a modern listener’s willingness to suspend disbelief.”
Story: A war-weary American journalist and his wife, in London during the Blitz, lose their unborn child and decide to adopt a traumatized war orphan.
Based Upon: The successful 1942 movie of the same name, in which Young and O’Brien also starred. The movie, in turn, was based upon the novel by journalist William L. White, and that was based on his true story of adopting a British war orphan. Life ran an interesting story on the “real Margaret” (not revealing that her name was actually Barbara), who would grow up to carry on her family’s journalistic legacy.
Google-worthy References: Ack-ack—Anti-aircraft guns.
Also, when the pregnant wife and her husband share a toast, she drinks milk. This surprised me and got me wondering how long doctors have been advising pregnant women to avoid alcohol. I didn’t find a definitive answer, but this history suggests alcohol’s potential harm has long been common knowledge.
My Verdict: These short movie adaptations work best when you haven’t seen the movie, which I haven’t in this case (although I want to now). As a radio story, it feels complete, and Robert Young and the children give enjoyable performances.

“Berkeley Square”
Everything for the Boys, February 8, 1944


Dangerously Yours, September 24, 1944


Hallmark Playhouse, March 3, 1949


“Out of what’s wrong with this world came a better time, and somehow the same will happen out of the struggles of my world.”
Based Upon
: The John L. Balderson play Berkeley Square, which was a hit when it opened in 1929. This time-travel romance was also a hit with old-time radio audiences, if you can judge by the number of shows that adapted it.
Story: Peter Standish longs to leave the 20th century behind. Obsessed with the diaries of an 18th century ancestor, he soon finds himself living his ancestor’s life. Complications arise when he falls in love with the sister of the woman his ancestor married.
Setting: Berkeley Square, a perennially fashionable London neighborhood.
Notable Cast Members: Ronald Colman plays Peter on Everything for the Boys, a wartime dramatic anthology. Greer Garson plays his love interest, Helen. Victor Jory stars in the Dangerously Yours episode. David Niven stars in the Hallmark Playhouse version.
About the Programs: Everything for the Boys ran for 21 weeks, with Colman hosting and starring in each episode and the legendary Arch Oboler writing and directing. Each episode ended with a short-wave call to fighting men overseas—this was a major technical challenge then and didn’t always work. The romantic anthology Dangerously Yours was also a short-lived 1944 show with a regular leading man—Victor Jory. After 16 episodes, it morphed into Vicks Matinee Theater. The high-toned Hallmark Playhouse presented Hollywood stars in literary adaptations.
My Verdict: Without having seen or read the play, I can’t say which version adapts it most faithfully. In all three versions, the time travel is abrupt and unexplained. The Everything for the Boys script adds an extra layer of resonance to the play by giving it an explicit World-War-II context. This makes it easier to see why Peter wants to escape the 20th century, why Helen is so horrified by her vision of the future (she sees men, women, and children being herded into open graves), and why Peter feels he must return to his own time and address its challenges.
Final Fun Facts: Oboler and Colman did not enjoy their collaboration. In fact, Dunning quotes Oboler as saying, “We hated each other’s guts.”
Also, Leslie Howard starred in the original Berkeley Square play and the 1933 movie version.

“It’s Always Tomorrow”


Words at War, January 2, 1945
“I’m gonna keep an eye on certain people here in England…and if they try to cheat us out of anything we’ve won in this war, then we’ll see if we can arrange another direct hit, especially for their benefit.”
Based Upon: It’s Always Tomorrow by Robert St. John, a journalist whose life spanned the 20th century and whose adventures spanned the globe. (He reminisces about his career in Studs Terkel’s Coming of Age—thanks, old-time radio, for making my to-be-read list even longer.)
Story: An American journalist assigned to London finds himself disgusted by out-of-touch, imperialist aristocrats. He falls in love with Polly, a bitter working-class woman, who refuses to support a war she thinks will benefit only the rich.
Notable Cast Members: Cathleen Cordell, who plays Polly, went on to have a long career as a character actress in television. I think William Quinn, who plays Dave, may be the same person as Bill Quinn, another prolific TV character actor.
About the Program: Words at War was a dramatic anthology that told timely stories from the world’s literal and figurative battlefronts. The New York Times called it “the boldest, hardest-hitting program” on the air.
My Verdict: Once you get past some heavy-handed British stereotypes, this is an interesting, nuanced story. Polly is a shockingly unpatriotic character by wartime radio standards. At one point, she even cries, “Let Germany win! Let Germany win!” Dave, playing devil’s advocate, tries to convince her that World War II is a “people’s war.” He interviews working people who are glad to make sacrifices and an aristocrat who is paying 97.5 percent of his income in taxes, but Polly remains unconvinced. When Dave loses his leg in a bombing, I thought sure the writers would give Polly a quick attitude change. She does agree to take Dave’s place in a war plant (where he’s begun working because his newspaper superiors banned him from writing about war’s effect on “the little people”). She stresses, however, that she’s making this choice based on love, not patriotism. A reviewer of St. John’s novel noted favorably that the book “makes a passionate plea for general understanding of the bitter hatred the common people in war-torn countries feel toward rulers who quit them ingloriously, shamefully, taking with them their loot and their foolish hides.” In the 1950s, author Robert St. John was blacklisted as a Communist, a label he disavowed. It’s sad but not surprising that his concern for the world’s common people would suggest Communism to 1950s red hunters.
Final Fun Fact: At one point, Dave and Polly visit a pub, where the crowd sings this song.