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.
Author’s Playhouse, December 21, 1941
“To think, that the voice of childhood has never gladdened our city…the patter of restless little feet never consecrated its streets…and nowhere in Yellowhammer are there roguish, expectant eyes ready to open wide at dawn of the enchanting day…eager, tiny hands to reach for Santa’s bewildering array of gifts…elated, childish voicings of the season’s joy.” Story: This is based on a short story by O. Henry, with a typical surprise ending. Cherokee, a prospector who has struck gold, is planning a Christmas visit to his old friends in a mining camp called Yellowhammer. He’s bringing toys and is ready to play Santa for all the town’s kids. Sadly, the town doesn’t have any. The civic leaders try to borrow some, only to find that parents are reluctant to part with their kids at Christmas. They end up with one cynical kid and things look bleak, until Cherokee and the child discover a deeper connection than anyone imagined. About Author’s Playhouse: This series, which dramatized literary stories, ran from 1941 to 1945. Musical Notes: The Author’s Playhouse theme is from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony; the same piece of music is the melody for Eric Carmen’s 1976 hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.”
My Verdict: This is an entertaining story, and it’s stylized language works to good comic effect.
“Trimming a Tree”
The Jack Benny Program, December 24, 1944
“Those lights were so pretty–especially those two blue ones that kept flashing on and off.” Story: Jack has an electrifying time getting ready for a Christmas Eve gathering at his house. Musical Notes: Larry Stevens sings “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” Rochester makes one of his recurring references to “Blues in the Night.”
My Verdict: A typically enjoyable Christmas episode, with lots of good banter among Jack, Mary, and Rochester.
“Three Wise Guys”
The Whistler, December 24, 1950
“I got a bad case of memories tonight.” Story: Damon Runyon meets the nativity story in a tale of redemption. My Verdict: This is an unusual story for The Whistler, but a satisfying one for Christmas eve.
“The Missing Mouse Matter”
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
“Now I have seen everything.” Story: Johnny has to find a missing mouse who’s been insured for $5,000. Why insure a mouse? He sings! About Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: This show about “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” was the last drama standing when network radio came to its end in 1962. Launched in 1948, it went through several format changes and seven actors as Johnny Dollar. Bob Bailey, who plays the part here, is widely considered the best. Musical Notes: Gulliver the mouse sings “Jingle Bells.” My Verdict: As Christmas episodes go, this one certainly gets points for originality. The ending hits just the right whimsical note.
Other old-time radio playlists you might enjoy:
Halloween, Part 1
Halloween, Part 2
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.