FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Thanks to being on the road – -among other places, in New York where I’ll attend the MWA annual dinner and find out if I’m going to be the proud recipient of a third Edgar — I need to hold this down to a mini-column. It’s an ancient tradition that when a professor has to miss a class or two, one leaves a homework assignment for the students. You’ll find mine in the next item.

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   What an amazing age we live in! I never thought anything could be added to the checklist of adaptations of Cornell Woolrich stories from the golden age of live TV drama that appeared almost thirty years ago in my FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE. Now I’ve just stumbled upon a Woolrich-based teledrama that I had never heard of before.

   Not just a reference to it but the episode itself, and one whose origin was a Woolrich tale I had never known was adapted for TV. It’s available on DVD (SUSPENSE: THE LOST EPISODES, COLLECTION 3) and on YouTube to boot.

   “Goodbye, New York” was based on the first-rate Woolrich story of the same name (Story Magazine, October 1937). A Web write-up of the DVD describes it as evoking a mood of “grim…noir-esque despair,” which certainly makes it sound faithful to its source. Meg Mundy starred in the 30-minute drama, which featured Gage Clarke, Philip Coolidge and an unbilled Ray Walston.

   Like 90-odd other SUSPENSE episodes, it was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who later helmed dozens of filmed episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. (Stevens died in his late sixties after being robbed and beaten by unknown assailants.) As shown on YouTube the episode doesn’t include an air date, but according to other Web sources it was the pilot for the series, broadcast on January 6, 1949, which apparently means that it’s the earliest TV version of any Woolrich tale.

   YouTube claims that Woolrich’s story was also the basis for the 1952 Hollywood feature BEWARE, MY LOVELY, starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino, but this is flat-out wrong; the literary source for that picture was Mel Dinelli’s “The Man” which, funnily enough, also first appeared in Story Magazine (May-June 1945).

   Here’s your homework assignment: When you’ve finished reading this column, watch the YouTube video and see if you agree that perhaps the earliest contribution to TV noir has been unearthed.

   If you have it handy you might want to read the Woolrich story too. It closes with lines that come as close as anything to capturing his world in a few words. “Two doomed things, running away. From nothingness, into nothingness….Turn back we dare not, stand still they wouldn’t let us, and to go forward was our destruction at our own hands.”

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   There’s just space for a couple of bits of information that I promised to include this month, dealing with adaptations of John Dickson Carr for 60-minute broadcasts during the golden age of live teledrama. The first of these was seen on the CBS anthology series STUDIO ONE the night of January 7, 1952. “The Devil in Velvet” was directed by Paul Nickell from a teleplay by Sumner Locke Elliott based on Carr’s 1951 historical thriller of the same name. The stars were Whit Bissell, Phyllis Kirk and Joan Wetmore.

   Apparently there were no more hour-long Carr adaptations until more than six years later when another CBS anthology series presented a version of by far the best known and most popular Carr radio play, “Cabin B-13″ (CLIMAX!, June 26, 1958). Shortly after a newlywed couple board a luxury liner for their honeymoon cruise, the man vanishes along with the fortune his wife gave him as a wedding present.

   She reports his disappearance to the captain and is told that there’s no record of either herself or her husband as passengers and that what she claims to have been their cabin doesn’t exist. Heading the cast were Barry Sullivan (Dr. Edwards), Kim Hunter (Ann Brewster), Alex Nicol (Robert Brewster), Hurd Hatfield (Morini) and Sebastian Cabot (Capt. Wilkins). The original Carr radio play is easily available both in audio and script form.

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   Apparently the last hour-long live Carr adaptation on American TV was aired on NBC’s DOW HOUR OF GREAT MYSTERIES, a short-lived series that aired once a month for seven months during the last year of the Eisenhower administration, by which time live TV drama was pretty much dead.

   Second of the seven episodes was “The Burning Court” (April 24, 1960). The adaptation of Carr’s classic 1937 novel of the same name was by Audrey and William Roos, who were well known for collaborating on whodunits as Kelley Roos. Paul Nickell once again directed. The cast boasted four top names: Barbara Bel Geddes (Marie Stevens), Robert Lansing (Edward Stevens), George C. Scott (Gordon Cross), and Anne Seymour (Mrs. Henderson).

   I can’t remember a thing about this show, probably because I was watching MAVERICK or something that night.