Mon 24 Oct 2016
by Michael Shonk
Welcome to part two of a three part series on horror and suspense for Halloween. Part One can be found here.
Horror is at its most terrifying when it exists in our own imagination. This is why the genre works so well in radio. Few radio series did not attempt a scary story or an episode with a horror theme. From BABY SNOOKS to PHILIP MARLOWE, the comedic or the typical whodunit, all took advantage of the success of horror in radio.
A good example is this episode from my favorite radio series ADVENTURES OF SAM SPADE (reviewed here ).
“The Fairly Bright Caper.” (CBS, October 31, 1948) Written by Bob Tallman and Gil Doud. Directed and Produced by William Spier. Cast: Howard Duff as Sam Spade and Lorene Tuttle as Effie.
Sam is hired for a Halloween high society engagement party that is spoiled by murder. What does the Witch really know?
It is radio’s version of Sam Spade, so jokes are as common as clues and the character of the witch gave it a perfect Halloween feel.
The most common form of the horror radio series was the anthology. Many of these series are still fondly remembered today, shows such as INNER SANCTUM, LIGHTS OUTS and SUSPENSE. So of course I will ignore them and turn to some forgotten ones.
MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER aired on Mutual Network between 1943 and 1952. Each week you the listener would board a train only to have the Mysterious Traveler approach you and tell you a story.
The series was created, written, produced and directed by the team of Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Arthur and Kogan won the Edgar award for this series as the best radio drama in 1953.
Mysterious Traveler was also adapted for comic books and a Mysterious Traveler magazine that featured short stories for the radio show as well as stories from such writers as John Dickson Carr, Craig Rice, Dorothy L. Sayers, Brett Halliday, Ray Bradbury, and Lawrence Blochman. The magazine lasted five issues and was edited by Bob Arthur.
“Locomotive Ghost.” (Mutual Network, July 6,1947) Written, directed, and produced by Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Voice of Mysterious Traveler: Maurice Tarplin.
To steal a large payroll carried by train two robbers destroy the train. They get away with the money but can they escape the Judgment Special?
While fictional characters hosted many of the radio anthologies, other anthologies used an announcer or the writer/producer or a famous star to introduce the story. The host star often acted in the episodes.
MYSTERY IN THE AIR featured the talents of Peter Lorre as each week the series would adapt some of literature’s best horror stories such as Edgar Allen Poe’s THE BLACK CAT, Alexander Pushkin’s QUEEN OF SPADES and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. The sadly neglected series was on NBC as a summer replacement (July – September 1947) for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW.
“The Horla.” (NBC, August 21, 1947) Based on short story by Guy de Maupassant. Cast: Peter Lorre, Peggy Webber and Lorene Tuttle. Announcer: Henry (Harry) Morgan.
Lorre plays a man who slowly becomes convinced an invisible monster is stalking him.
HALL OF FANTASY (KALL, Salt Lake City, 1946-47; WGN 1949; Mutual 1952)
Richard Thorne was the creative force behind HALL OF FANTASY. The series began in 1946 on Salt Lake Utah station KALL and produced by Thorne and Carl Greyson. The series ended in 1947. In 1949 Thorne (with Greyson in some accounts) revived the series for WGN and by 1952 HALL OF FANTASY was airing nation-wide on Mutual Network.
“The Judge’s House.” (April 6, 1947) Based on story by Bram Stoker, adapted by Bob Olson. Directed by Richard Thorne. Produced by Thorne and Carl Greyson.
A young student comes to a small town to find a quiet place to study. Despite the locals warnings he rents a house where an evil judge had lived fifty years ago.
While it is common belief that original dramas for radio died when TV took over, that is not totally true. Shows such as SUSPENSE and YOURS TRULY JOHNNY DOLLAR hung on until 1962.
CBS tried to bring back radio with CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER (1974-82). While many talented artists from radio’s glory days contributed to the series, the writing was never able to recapture the magic of old type radio. Perhaps the focus was misplaced in trying to recreate the magic of the past instead of bring radio up to the present.
Radio drama continues today at the BBC. Canada has shown success with radio series such as JOHNNY CHASE: SECRET AGENT (1978-81), THE MYSTERY PROJECT (1992-2004), and the anthology series NIGHTFALL (1980-1983).
Created by Bill Howell the series NIGHTFALL remains best known for its scary episodes such as “Porch Light” (not on Youtube), but tried nearly every genre in fiction, even adapting a folk song by Stan Rogers for an episode.
NIGHTFALL (CBC, 1980-1983)
“Fatal Eggs.” (April 17, 1981) Written by Arthur Samuels. Based on a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. Produced by Bill Howell. Cast: Douglas Campbell, Neil Dainard and David Calderisi.
Russian scientists develop a red ray that can grow animals in size. But things go bad when the communist bureaucrats take over the project.
NEXT: PART THREE – TELEVISION.
ON THE AIR: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford University Press, 1998)
The Digital Deli http://www.digitaldeliftp.com
Old-Time Radio catalog http://www.otrcat.com
Radio Horror Hosts http://www.radiohorrorhosts.com
OTR Plot Spot http://www.otrplotspot.com/mainMenu.html
THE NIGHTFALL PROJECT http://www.thenightfallproject.org