It’s summertime and school’s out, but you can still learn some valuable lessons from these summer-themed old-time radio shows.
“The June House Party”
Love Story, August 6, 1937
“Randy’s a blooming idiot.” Lesson Learned: What to do when he’s not that into you? Have you tried staging a mock wedding that turns out to be real? Apparently, it works wonders. About Love Story: This short-lived series drew its stories from the pages of Love Story Magazine, a weekly romance pulp with an interesting history. My Verdict: This makes for an amusing 15 minutes, though not for the reasons its creators intended.
“Summer Thunder” The Whistler, July 30, 1945
“This blasted heat’s getting on my nerves.” Lesson Learned: Make sure your husband has actually committed murder before you start trying to obstruct justice for him. My Verdict: The acting is stagy, but this is a well-constructed mystery, with appropriate red herrings.
“Summer Storm” Suspense, October 18, 1945
“All fat men aren’t good natured.” Lesson Learned: Talking to yourself a lot? There is something odd about that. Notable Performers: Henry Fonda’s naturally calm persona makes a nice contrast with the role he is playing, that of a man slowly cracking up. My Verdict: I didn’t see the ending twist coming.
“Sometime Every Summertime” Studio One, March 9, 1928
“What is it they say about summer romances?” Lesson Learned: Summer loves grow cold in the fall. Sniff. (Alternate lesson: Advertising guys are kind of jerks.) About Studio One: Fletcher Markle directed this short-lived anthology series that dramatized novels and plays. Notable Performers: Burgess Meredith plays Clem, an ad man whose vacation romance with a young woman from a different social class is recounted from three perspectives—his friend’s, the woman’s, and his own. My Verdict: This script by Markle was first produced on Columbia Workshop in 1946, then made the rounds of other anthology shows. Its popularity was well deserved; this is an understated, authentically human story with no corny elements. Bonus Feature: This script was also produced for TV, in a 1953 production starring Dorothy McGuire.
“Going on a Picnic” Archie Andrews, August 21, 1948
“I sure didn’t expect to get undressed on a picnic.” Lesson Learned: Don’t go on a picnic with Archie and Jughead. Just don’t. My Verdict: A mildly amusing episode of this silly series. Are there ants at this picnic? Yep…plus cows, skunks, and snapping turtles. Celebrity Name-Droppings: Jughead mentions Elsie the Cow, symbol of Borden Dairy since 1936.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have found this blog since I started it in August, especially my little group of regular readers and commenters. It’s been fun sharing my eclectic set of interests with you, and I hope you find much to enjoy here in 2013, including:
Many more old-time radio playlists, focusing not only on holidays and seasons but on themes ranging from babies, dogs, and cats, to Shakespeare, courtroom drama, and the fourth estate. I will also assemble playlists featuring my favorite screen stars, including Joseph Cotten, Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant, Margaret O’Brien, Bing Crosby, Myrna Loy, and others.
Many bizarre words of wisdom from vintage teenage advice books and teen magazines.
A new occasional feature called Comic Book Craziness, featuring oddities from my small collection of 1960s and 1970s romance and superhero comics.
Some entertaining vintage board games in my Spin Again Sunday series. Coming up in the next two weeks: A 1955 Dragnet game and a 1970s girls career game that was already so retrograde in its own time that it included a disclaimer.
Occasional looks at other vintage toys in my collection, including Barbie dolls and accessories, more Fisher Price Play Family toys, Viewmaster reels, Colorforms, Mattel’s Sunshine Family dolls, and others.
More posts about classic movies. This is an area I planned to explore more frequently than I have so far. I am hoping to blog about movies at least a couple times a month this year.
And, of course, many more installments of Family Affair Friday. We are about half way through season 1, and I am particularly excited about starting season 2—my very favorite.
Since becoming part of the blogosphere, one of my greatest pleasures has been discovering so many wonderful bloggers producing entertaining and insightful work. My new year’s resolution is to spend more time reading and commenting on your blogs.
And now, as a New Year’s treat, I present 10 old-time radio episodes. Enjoy!
“The Strange Case of the Iron Box”
December 31, 1945
“New Year’s Resolution”
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show
December 29, 1946
“New Year’s Day”
January 1, 1947
“New Year’s Nightmare”
The Mysterious Traveler
January 5, 1947
“Rain on New Year’s Eve”
December 29, 1947
“Hot New Year’s Party”
Casey, Crime Photographer
January 1, 1948
“Jack Tries to Get Tickets for the Rose Bowl”
Jack Benny Program
January 4, 1948
“Riley Invites Himself to His Boss’ New Year’s Eve Party”
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.
“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.
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.
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 1949 About this Series: A syndicated 15-minute show, Unsolved Mysteries aired ostensibly true stories and posited solutions to historical mysteries. Thoughts on this Episode: Unsolved 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” Escape
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).
I put this playlist together after noticing how many old-time radio mystery shows had presented episodes titled “Till Death Do Us Part.”
“Till Death Do Us Part”
Suspense, December 15, 1942
“Just remember, I shall be waiting…out, in the dark and cold, where there is neither marriage, nor giving in marriage…I’ll be waiting, for my little pet to come and join me.” Story: A professor, jealous of his wife’s love for another man, comes up with a clever plan to eliminate both his problems. Writer: John Dickson Carr, well known Golden-Age mystery writer, who wrote many Suspense episodes. Notable Cast Members: Peter Lorre, whose voice oozes creepiness, plays the murderous husband. The same year this episode aired, Lorre played one of his most memorable film roles: Ugarte in Casablanca. 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.” Weapon of Choice: Aconite, also known as monkshood, a poison. My Verdict: An entertainingly over-the-top performance by Lorre and a script with several good twists make this a must-listen.
“Till Death Do Us Part”
The Sealed Book, July 8, 1945
“Oh, no, I’ll never leave you, darling. Never, never, never.” Story: A man is determined to escape his smothering wife—and she is determined to keep him. About The Sealed Book: A cheesy mystery-horror show with a very cheesy opening sequence, The Sealed Book was a syndicated show that ran for six months in 1945. Weapon of Choice: The sea. My Verdict: A so-bad-it’s-good kind of entertainment. By a few minutes in, you’ll want to kill Blanche, too.
“Till Death Do Us Part”
Murder at Midnight, December 9, 1946
“One life has already paid for yours. And, quart for quart, your blood is worth no more than my family’s.” Story: A newlywed husband is tormented by fantasies of killing his bride. About Murder at Midnight: Similar in some ways to The Sealed Book, this was a syndicated show with a cheesy opening and ample organ flourishes. The quality is much higher, though. As Digital Deli Too writes, “Anton Leader, later famous for his Television work, directed the series. The writing staff was also top-notch, with names such as Max Erlich, Joe Ruscoll and Robert Newman, among others.” Weapons of Choice: Strangulation, a gun. My verdict: This story is clever and complex, and it uses Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” to eerie effect as a recurring motif. The actress playing the bride gives a good performance.
“Till Death Do Us Part”
Inner Sanctum Mysteries, October 27, 1947 “Oh, baby, how did we ever get into a mess like this?” Story: Newlyweds are witnesses when a man murders a woman, and their honeymoon just gets better from there. About Inner Sanctum Mysteries: This was the father of all campy-mystery-horror-with-cheesy-opening shows. Famous for its creaking-door sound effect and its punning host, Inner Sanctum Mysteries ran from 1941 to 1952. Notable Cast Members: Everett Sloane and Mercedes McCambridge, two prolific radio performers. Sloane was a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and appeared in the films Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai. Two years after this episode aired, McCambridge would play an Academy-Award-winning supporting role in All the King’s Men. Her movie career would also include providing the voice for The Exorcist’s demon. Weapons of Choice: A gun, smothering (sort of). My Verdict: Inner Sanctum has its fans, but it consistently underwhelms me. My mind kept wandering during this one, and the ending didn’t satisfy me.
“Till Death Do Us Part”
The Whistler, April 14, 1948
“He made a mistake–a bad one.” Story: A shady art dealer meets up with the equally shady young wife of an ailing art collector. This won’t end well for anyone. About The Whistler: A popular mystery-crime show, The Whistler ran for 13 years. It has similarities to the shows above, except that the episode’s central character is usually the bad guy, whom the narrator addresses directly and tauntingly. Notable Cast Members: Gerald Mohr was another prolific radio actor whose most memorable role was Philip Marlowe. Doris Singleton would go on to play the recurring role of Carolyn Appleby on TV’s I Love Lucy. Weapon of Choice: Sleeping pills (sort of). My Verdict: The Whistler can be hit or miss. This wasn’t an outstanding episode, but it did keep me guessing. I always enjoy Gerald Mohr’s sexy, hard-boiled voice.
“Until Death Do Us Part”
Private Files of Rex Saunders “It worked. It worked real good.” Story: A casino owner’s second wife becomes convinced that her husband killed his first wife–and that she is about to be his second victim. About Private Files of Rex Saunders: This private investigator show was a starring vehicle for Rex Harrison that aired during the summer of 1951. Himan Brown directed the series. Notable Cast Members: Rex Harrison is best remembered as My Fair Lady‘s Henry Higgins, of course. Leon Janney, who plays the assistant, began his long theatrical career when he was still a child. Weapons of Choice: Guns. My Verdict: It’s fun to hear Harrison play a private investigator, and the story has some nice twists.