This episode from December 5, 1946 is a bit hard to describe, so bear with me. It’s a story within a story about a notebook found in a house that was just recently built telling of what happened to the people that lived in it before. That’s right – before. It’s truly spooky, and Suspense is just the best. Sidenote: The star of this episode, Robert Taylor, was the physical inspiration for hunky Graham Yarborough in my books. Hubba hubba.
This episode of Escape, originally broadcast November 15, 1949, features the master of schlocky horror, Vincent Price, as one of three keepers trapped in a lighthouse surrounded by thousands of rabid rats.
I had originally planned on sharing four shows during the month of October in honor of Halloween, but I love horror radio drama so much that I couldn’t settle on just four.* So I’m starting the horror before October so I can squeeze six + in. With my first selection, I’m also breaking my own rules by recommending a radio drama that isn’t “old time”. These recordings are 20 years old now though, so I think they’re officially considered vintage.
I think this three-part version of Pet Sematary produced by BBC radio in 1997 is better than the movie. I’ve never read the book (one of the very few Stephen King books I haven’t read), but this adaptation seems closer to the feel of a Stephen King book than the movie. I don’t know about you, but movie special effects have got nothin on my imagination.
In honor of my upcoming birthday (next Monday), I’m featuring my absolute, hands-down favorite old time radio episode of all time – “Sorry, Wrong Number” from my all-time favorite radio show, Suspense.
This episode features Agnes Moorehead (You probably know her as Samantha’s interfering mother, Endora, from Bewitched) as a sickly woman who overhears a menacing telephone conversation. That’s all I’m going to tell you. I don’t want to spoil it.
This episode originally aired August 21, 1943 and was repeated several times throughout the twenty years Suspense was on the air.
The story, by Lucille Fletcher, was turned into a 1948 movie starring Barbara Stanwyck (one of a my favorite sass-mouthed dames). The radio show is far superior, in my opinion, due to the restrictions of the medium. It makes it so much scarier to not be able to see anything that’s happening…
Little Orphan Annie started out as a newspaper comic strip in the 1920s and jumped into radio in 1930 in Chicago. It was one of the few programs aimed at children in radio’s early days and was wildly popular.
You may be familiar with the program from its inclusion in a pivotal scene in that “A Christmas Story”. The main character, Ralphie, feverishly decodes the secret message at the end of the program to find… well, I won’t spoil it for those of you that haven’t seen the movie.
The episode of Little Orphan Annie in the above scene is a recreation, but below is an original from 1936 in two parts. The secret message part is at the end of part two.
I picked this episode of Murder at Midnight because it’s seemingly based on a real series of murders in 1940s Chicago committed by The Lipstick Killer. The name comes from the message written in lipstick on a victim’s wall:
My mom watched all the CBS soaps while I was growing up – Young & The Restless, Bold & The Beautiful, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light. (I think Search for Tomorrow was also in the lineup briefly.) That meant I watched them all too. Don’t get me started on Ridge and Brooke or Victor and Nikki…
Like most television genres, soaps actually got their start on the radio in the early 1930s. Florence Gill- Davison, the daytime drama grand dame that puts Vivian and Frances into a tizzy in The Darkness Knows, was based on a combination of real soap grand dames Irna Phillips and Anne Hummert.
Love & Glory, the soap in The Darkness Knows, is an amalgamation of all radio soaps I’ve ever heard, but I think this episode of “Against the Storm” from 1940 really nails what I was after – from the heavy organ throughout to the Ivory Flakes commercial (and contest to win a Pontiac!).
Daytime dramas* were usually about 15 minutes long including sponsor spiels. The overtaxed writers, writing multiple shows a week, could stretch out a scene for days or even weeks. That way a woman listening could miss a day or two and jump right back in without becoming hopelessly lost in the plot. (Something that’s been carried over to present day soaps.) I think you’ll get a taste of that when you listen to this episode. I don’t mean to spoil it, but despite the title of the episode (Pascal Tyler rescues Lucretia), nothing much happens except a man talking soothingly to a horse.
*The term “soap opera” began being used in 1939 because of the heavy soap company endorsements on these programs.
Some of you may have already guessed the inspiration for the title of Vivian’s radio show and Book #1 – THE DARKNESS KNOWS. It comes from the intro to The Shadow radio show:
Who knows what evils lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!
The Shadow is the crime-fighting alter ego of Lamont Cranston who has the ability to “cloud men’s minds so they can not see him”. Orson Welles played title role at the show’s inception in 1937, but he left the show in 1938. The radio version ran until 1954 with four more actors portraying Lamont during the run.
Listening to this now, I can see that this show influenced the fictional The Darkness Knows radio show in my series more than any other actual radio show – even though it’s not a “detective show” per se. This is also always the show people bring up when I talk old time radio with them. Everyone seems to know The Shadow…
Ray Bradbury grew up in Waukegan, IL and there’s a storytelling festival each year around Halloween that honors him. I went to it a few times, and it’s excellent. I think Bradbury’s short stories are particularly well-suited to radio and that’s where I first heard most of them. I’m sharing two of my favorites today (because I couldn’t pick just one).
“The Ravine” is the first episode of the show Bradbury 13 from the early 1980s. The fictionalized ravine is based on a very real one in Waukegan. Waukegan itself was fictionalized often as “Green Town” in Bradbury’s stories. This story is chilling. There are 13 episodes in this series and all are fabulous.
“Zero Hour” is a Suspense episode from April 5, 1955 is chilling in an entirely different way. I don’t want to give anything away except that it’s very 1950s, and the main character is a seemingly sweet little girl named “Mink” (which I love).
Lights Out is one of my favorite shows. It was a pioneer of horror/sci-fi and was originally produced in Chicago (and Harold Peary of Great Gildersleeve fame, star of last week’s post, guested on it a few times). Lights Out began in 1934 to as “a midnight mystery serial to catch the attention of the listeners at the witching hour.” True to that aim it aired at midnight and soon switched to an anthology format with new stories presented for each program. Lights Out almost certainly inspired The Twilight Zone.
I have so many favorite episodes, but this one stands out as especially creepy. “It Happened” aired May 11, 1938. It’s the story of a girl trapped in the catacombs under Paris – and that’s all I’m going to tell you. (Despite the name of the show, you might want to listen to this one with the lights on.)