Radio Guide Inspiration (Thanks, Henry Grimm)

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I scored a whole lot of 1938 Radio Guide magazines off of ebay about six years ago – all from the collection of one man, Henry Grimm (or so I assume, since his name is written in pencil on the front cover of most of them and yes, that’s Lucille Ball on the cover of the one in the middle). I’ve spent hours pouring over them, and I thought I’d share a little of the real stories that inspired characters and incidents in my first book, The Darkness Knows.

First of all, there’s a gossip section in every edition centered around Chicago radio called The Radio Tattler. You may recognize this as the gossip section Vivian’s excited about being mentioned in at the beginning of the book. (There were also gossip sections devoted to New York and Los Angeles).

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The character of Little Sammy Evans was inspired by this feature story in the March 19, 1938 edition.

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Also, Vivian mentions when talking to Charlie that there are women that specialize in crying like babies for radio programs. That came from this blurb.

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And here’s the actual listing for Thursday, October 27, 1938. The Darkness Knows would have been listed in the 8:00 time slot – if it had been real, that is. (I love that Henry Grimm put a check mark next to the programs that he planned to listen to – Rudy Vallee’s Variety Hour at 7:00, Maxwell House Coffee’s Good News of 1939 at 8:00, and the Kraft Music Hall Starring Bing Crosby at 9:00. He must have gone to bed after that. ;))

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Halloween Costumes – 1938 Style

The action in THE DARKNESS KNOWS takes place October 27 – 31, 1938. That’s prime Halloween time; so of course, I had to include a masquerade scene. It was a lot of fun to write, but it took some thought to find costumes for the characters that wouldn’t be anachronistic to the time.

Charlie and Vivian’s last minute cowboy attire was borrowed from the “costume closet” at WCHI and more specifically from the Country Cavalcade (a fictional country music program based on WLS’s popular Barn Dance). I got the idea from this photo of Jack Benny and a bunch of lovelies from a Radio Stars magazine article.

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Vivian’s friend Imogene is dressed as Maid Marion from the 1938 movie version of Robin Hood (played by Olivia de Havilland).

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Imogene’s boyfriend George and Graham (much to George’s chagrin) are both dressed as Robin Hood himself (as played by Errol Flynn).

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Head of the radio station, Mr. Hart, is dressed as another famous Errol Flynn role – the pirate, Captain Blood.

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Speaking of movies, Frances Barrow is dressed as Snow White (the Disney film was a smash hit in 1937-38). (Frances would have also make a fabulous Scarlett O’Hara, but alas, the movie version of that didn’t come out until the end of 1939.)

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Station Engineer, Morty Nickerson, is dressed as Prince Charming from Snow White.

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Announcer, Bill Purdy, is The Lone Ranger – a radio hit since 1933 and appearing in movie serials starting in 1938.

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Fellow actor, Dave Chapman, is Superman. Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in June 1938, so he was a brand new at the time of the masquerade. Weird to think that there was a time Superman didn’t exist, isn’t it?

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Another actor, Little Sammy Evans, is a court jester. (The photo below is from the 1955 Danny Kaye movie, but imagine the same sort of costume.)

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Other various and sundry characters you’ll find at the WCHI Halloween Masquerade of 1938 are Little Orphan Annie, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Henry VIII, and The Red Baron.

On this day in fictional history – October 27, 1938

Up and coming radio star, Vivian Witchell, finds the dead body of Marjorie Fox in the station’s lounge. And Vivian may be the killer’s next victim…

I couldn’t resist.

Other (real) things happening in October 1938:

  • Passports of German Jews are declared invalid and they are required to have the letter “J” stamped onto their passports for them to become valid again.
  • The Munich Agreement was signed Sept 30 allowing Hitler to annex the Sudetenland (part of ethnically German Czechoslovakia) and prompting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring “peace in our time”. It would be less than a year before Germany invaded Poland starting WWII.
  • Top radio shows are Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen, Lux Radio Theatre, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Amos & Andy.
  • Filming has just started on The Wizard of Oz and will soon start on Gone with the Wind (though the part of Scarlett O’Hara will remain uncast until December).

Finally, here are some ads pulled from the October 27, 1938 edition of The Chicago Tribune ($1 in 1938 is worth about $16 today).

1938 ads