Monday, October 31, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: The Classics, Pt. 2

Well, Blog-o-weeners (I'm really gonna have to think of a better name), we made it! It is 31 October; it is Halloween! I hope everyone has a great time today...what with the chill in the air...and the trick-or-treating...and the spooky movies...and the bobbing for apples...and the carving of pumpkins...ooohhhh, laaadyyy!

Here at LARPing Real Life HQ, I'm gonna throw on Zacherley's Horrible Horror, an old VHS tape I bought at Hill's Department Store in the 1980s. After that, I'm putting myself in the hand of Commander USA and his 1985 USA Network Halloween Special. I say "hand," because we all know that the Commander has his other hand full with his right-hand man, Lefty. Sure.

So, now we come to it. The final three old time radio show of Blog-o-ween 2022. And boy, oh boy, are they scary. I mean, I honestly hope you all are wearing a belt or a pair of suspenders at the very least, because these shows are going to scare the pants right off of you! Oh, yeah! I mean, double-knot your shoelaces, because the three thrilling and chilling stories we have today are going to knock your socks off! You bet!

Our first entry for Halloween is a 1948 episode Wyllis Cooper's Quiet Please. It is a terrifying tale called “The Thing on the Fourble Board.” I don’t want to give too much away on this one. All I will say is that a “fourble board” is the working platform on an oil derrick. Everything about this episode - the writing, the acting, the sound design - is sheer horrific perfection. And the story’s ending is absolutely unforgettable.

Next, let's you and I take a trip into the canyons of Los Angeles -- Cypress Canyon to be precise. There, we will find a house belonging to James and Ellen Woods. It's a nice little place, perfect for a married couple. There's lots of closet space. In fact, one closet in particular seems to house enough blood to give Dracula a tummyache. Written by Robert L. Richards, directed by William Spier, and starring Robert Taylor and Cathy Lewis, “The House in Cypress Canyon” from the series Suspense is considered by many people to be the scariest radio program of all time. Do you dare listen to see if they are right?

Last, we have what I think is the scariest radio show of them all. The above shows are doozies, no mistake about it, but this next just has that certain je ne sais quoi, that little bit extra, whether it's the acting, the mood, the ending, that nudges it above everything else in my opinion. It is an adaptation of W.W. Jacobs's classic tale "The Monkey's Paw" as performed on the Canadian radio show Nightfall

The story is simply told: at the turn of the 20th century, an English family is visited by a friend just back from serving in India. The visitor has in his possession a souvenir from his time there: a shriveled, mummified monkey’s paw. He tells the family that it allegedly grants three wishes, but those who tempt fate through the paw’s powers are forever sorry they do so. The visitor tries to toss it onto the fire and burn it, but the paw is saved and kept by the family.

What does the family wish for? Do they get what they want?

What follows is a tale of terror and bitter irony that still sends a shiver up my spine. “The Monkey’s Paw” is a marvel of construction, simple, but with powerful moments leading up to its heartbreaking climax.

I hope you enjoyed our trip through old time radio this month. If you want to hear more, you are in luck! There are many more shows available for streaming at the Internet Archive, as well as your favorite podcast platform.

Be well, my fiends, stay scared...

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: The Classics, Pt. 1

One day. ONE DAY! That's all that is standing between you and the Big H-A-double hockey sticks-oween! We've listened to a lot of great old time radio  shows, haven't we? We've heard fantastic audio horror from the 1930s all the way up to the 2020s! That's nearly a hundred years of storytelling goodness! We've heard tales from Arch Oboler, Ray Bradbury, and H.P. Lovecraft. We've heard the voices of Peter Lorre, Mercedes McCambidge, and Vincent Price. We've been terrorized by werewolves, videotapes, and dentists. It's been an amazing ride on this Blog-o-ween train. It's a pity it has to end.

But it isn't over yet! We still have today and tomorrow, and for the penultimate and ultimate days of October, I thought we'd tune our ears to the ne plus ultra of radio thrills and chills. Today and tomorrow, we will be listening to the scariest radio shows ever broadcast. I can already hear your haughty indignation and "Well, actually..." now:

"Who says these are the scariest?"

Well...I do, for the most part. It's my blog, after all. Most of the shows I'll be posting can be found on the interwebz if you search for "scariest old time radio shows," so a lot of other people think so, too, but ultimately it came down to what me, myself, and I thought was scary. Listener mileage may vary.

"What were the determining criteria that made you choose one show over another?"

Determining what? What are you on about? This isn't science. I picked what I picked cuz I picked 'em. They're just old time radio shows.

Without further ado...or should that be...Without further a-boo, heh-heh-heh!...let's just jump head first into the three shows I've chosen for today. Each of these is creepy and off-putting in its own way. Strangeness abounds in them all. Some use the supernatural to send a shiver up the spine. Others rely on good ol' fashioned human foibles and failings to get their scares across.

First up is a tale from "Radio's Outstanding Theater of Thrills," Suspense. It stars an actor who is making his first appearance in this year's Blog-o-ween: Cary Grant. The story concerns a couple whose car runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere while a storm rages around them. To compound matters, there is a crazy woman known as "The Crazy Woman" sneaking about the countryside with a meat cleaver, chopping the heads off her victims. Soon, a terrified woman comes out of the dark asking to be let in. Will the couple rue their decision to leave the main highway and travel..."On a Country Road"?

Next, we've got an episode of Hall of Fantasy. In this story, we have a young woman who is being stalked by creatures she cannot see, creatures who live in the dark and only come out when the lights are turned off. This one has the feel of the 2016 film Lights Out mixed at times with A Nightmare of Elm Street -- the raspy cackle of the creatures reminds me of Freddy Kreuger. Listen to "The Shadow People" with the lights turned out...if you dare!

Our last tale of the evening makes me feel like a department store on 1 November, because it isn't even Halloween yet, and here I am serving up a good ol' fashioned Christmas ghost story. But "Smee" by A.M. Burrage isn't just any Christmas ghost story. I think it's one of the finest ghost stories there is. It's a simple, yet effective tale about a party game called "Smee." You've heard of it? No? Well, the rules are simplicity itself:

"It’s a great improvement on the ordinary game of hide-and-seek. The name derives from the ungrammatical colloquialism, 'It’s me.' You might care to play if you’re going to play a game of that sort. Let me tell you the rules.

"Every player is presented with a sheet of paper. All the sheets are blank except one, on which is written 'Smee'. Nobody knows who is “Smee” except 'Smee' himself—or herself, as the case may be. The lights are then turned out and 'Smee' slips from the room and goes off to hide, and after an interval the other players go off in search, without knowing whom they are actually in search of. One player meeting another challenges with the word 'Smee' and the other player, if not the one concerned, answers 'Smee'.

"The real 'Smee' makes no answer when challenged, and the second player remains quietly by him. Presently they will be discovered by a third player, who, having challenged and received no answer, will link up with the first two. This goes on until all the players have formed a chain, and the last to join is marked down for a forfeit."

As I said, it's a simple game, however, things become complicated when the twelve people playing "Smee" inexplicably become thirteen. Where did the extra player come from? Who is the newcomer? Listen to this episode of the South African show Beyond Midnight here to find out.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: Edgar Allan Poe

It's that part of the week that everyone is working for, and that means that we are two days away from Halloween 2022. We've been through a lot, you and I. We've listened to, we've learned from, and we've loved a lot of old time radio, but something's been missin' don'cha think? It's kinda like we threw a party but there's one guest that RSVP'ed who hasn't shown up yet. That one party animal without whom we might as well pack up the beerball and call it a night. And I don't mean that kid who's taking a second trip through his junior year, the one in the torn up "Who Farted?" t-shirt who can chug an Old Milwaukee tall boy while standing on his head neither...although...given our Blog-o-ween subject's history with alcohol, maybe that's exactly who I'm talking about, after all!

What can we say about Edgar Allan Poe that hasn't already been drilled into our heads during a junior high English class? He was born in Boston in January, 1809, and he died in Baltimore in October, 1849. In between, E.A. Poe lived a life with as many ups and downs as an Otis elevator, albeit the downs outnumbered the ups by a conservative 4-to-1 margin.

Even in death, the poor man couldn't catch a break. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, an editor, critic, and antholgist, bore Poe a grudge. The tension between the two men stemmed from Poe's attack on Griswold's critical acumen in his 1842 book The Poets and Poetry of America. Later, Griswold replaced Poe as co-editor at Graham's Magazine at a higher salary, something Poe could not stomach. Somehow, even through all this antagonism and aggrievement, Griswold was named Poe's literary executor upon his death, and he used this position to spread lies and destroy Poe's reputation.

Thankfully, Griswold failed at his attempt at literary assassination. Due to the dilligence of people who knew Poe well, as well as French critics and writers like Charles Baudelaire, Poe's reputation remained intact, and in fact only grew as the years passed.

Today, we have a collection of classic tales from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's work was a source of inspiration to many old time radio producers and writers over the years. A search of the Internet Archive would reveal myriad adaptations to choose from -- all of them weird, all of them wonderful. I've chosen four that I think best represent the man and the radio programs of the 20th century.

First up is a classic tale of revenge from Hall of Fantasy. Two men are enjoying Carnival in Venice. Unbeknownst to one of the men, the other holds a venomous grudge against him and plots his revenge. Montresor invites the drunken Fortunato to his family vaults, luring him deeper and deeper into the catacombs with the promise of..."The Cask of Amontillado."

Next is one of the, if not the most famous tale Poe ever wrote, "The Tell-Tale Heart." Adapted for The Weird Circle in 1944, the story is about one man's murderous obsession and the way his conscience gets the better of him.

Next up is an episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It is a updated adaptation of my personal favorite Poe tale, "Berenice." In this version, a young man falls in love with his young sister-in-law while his wife lies on her deathbed. The last distressing smile of his wife taunts him day and night, and he goes crazy when he sees the same smile on his new beloved.

Lastly, we have the other story for which Poe is so rightly famous. "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a gothic masterpiece, and the radio show Escape does a fine job of bring it to life...and death!

Friday, October 28, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: Frankenstein

"Three more days 'til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween!

"Three more days 'til Halloween...

"LARPing Real Life!"

It's got a great rhythm, and I can dance to it. I give it a ten!

You know what else I give a ten? Today's subject for Blog-o-ween. For those of you who take your monsters tall, dead, and handsome, you're in luck. We've got Mary Shelley's gift to the world lined up for you. Today is all about Frankenstein's monster!

When it comes to answering the question "Who is the King of the Monsters (so far as adaptations for movies, TV, comic books, stage, etc. are concerned)?", it's a toss up between Frankenstein and Dracula. Both monsters were there at the very beginning of the 1930s silver screen horror cycle when Universal Studios released Tod Browning's Dracula in February, 1931, and James Whale's Frankenstein nine months later. Since then, Transylvania's favorite son and Bavaria's least favorite babysitter have starred in scores of movies together and separately. While I adore both monsters, I think my heart truly belongs to Frankie. He's one of us, you know? He didn't ask to be born (or stitched together). He just wants to be left alone to stumble around the countryside taking his vengeance on his creator. Like I said -- he's one of us!

Speaking of creators, Mary Shelley was only eighteen when she put (what I imagine to be) the point of an ink-dipped ostrich feather to parchment and gave birth to the first true science-fiction tale in 1818. Well-received by the public and critics, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, was hailed upon its publication in 1820 as "an extraordinary tale," "a very bold fiction," and "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity."

Guess which blurb I'd be putting on the cover of my book!

Adaptations for the stage began almost immediately. In 1823, Richard Brinsley Peake wrote Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, for the English Opera House. There was a musical burlesque in 1887 entitled Frankenstein, or The Vampire's Victim. (The first monster mash?!) By the time movies and radio came along, Frankenstein adaptations were like a cottage industry employing if not hundreds, then a fair-sized group of people at the very least.

Which brings us to today's examples of Frankenstein on old time radio. There were so many to choose from, but I think the shows we'll be listening to are a very good samples of the ways Ms. Shelley's creature and its creator have influenced the culture.

One of the earliest appearances of the Monster occured in August of 1931. Written by Alonzo Dean Cole for The Witch's Tale, in this episode Nancy the Witch (and her cat, Satan, too!) promise to reveal the true facts of the Frankenstein story...facts that even Mary Shelley didn't know!

For the most part, we've been playing it pretty straight this Blog-o-ween. There have been very few laughs this month. Those that have arisen were of the tongue-in-cheek variety or the whistling-past-the-graveyard kind. Right now, however, let's jump feet first into comedy and take a trip to Duffy's Tavern.

Duffy's Tavern was a situation comedy that ran on several networks from 1941-1951. The main character is the tavern's manager, Archie (Ed Gardner), who always spoke in mixed metaphors and malapropisms. Celebrity guest stars were always coming around the tavern, and they were usually roped into some scheme Archie came up with.

Today's episode of Duffy's Tavern is no different as Archie talks Boris Karloff into joining his adaptation of Frankenstein to be performed at a war bond rally.

Next, we jump forward to the 1970s and into an episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. This one is not an adaptation of Mary Shelley's tale, but is about the 400th anniversary news coverage of Baron Von Frankenstein. Unfortunately for all those involved in the broadcast, the doctor and his creation may not be as old a news item as was once thought. There might be more than old issues of the newspaper in the morgue, if you get my meaning...heh-heh-heh!

Last, we have what may be one of the most faithful adaptations of Frankenstein set before a microphone. In 1938, Austalian actor George Edwards (known as "The Man of a Thousand Voices") produced a 13-part serial set to transcription disc.

I think the majority of Frankenstein's adaptations suffer from Moby-Dick-itis. Yes, that novel is about a guy named Ahab and his need for revenge on the White Whale, but there is so much more to the story in the novel. Unfortunately, much of it is unfilmable. The same goes for Shelley's novel. At over two-and-a-half hours, George Edwards does a fine job of making use of most of Shelley's ideas. It is a wonderful play. Listen for yourself...

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: Lights Out

Four days, people, FOUR DAYS! Can you believe it? Halloween is right around the corner, and what better way to get in the right frame o' mind than with some old time radio? Today's Blog-o-ween entry is a bit of a return to how we started the month off. Cast your mind back, if you will, and recall that on Day One we listened to a short tale from Arch Oboler called "A Day at the Dentist." Now, that tale was from a 1962 album called Drop Dead!: An Exercise in Horror!, which was a collection of plays that Mr. Oboler originally presented on the radio in the 1930s and 40s. Today, we will be going back to the source, to the show for which Mr. Oboler is most famous, Lights Out.

Created in 1934 by Wyllis Cooper, Lights Out originally began as a series of 15-minute shows on Chicago's WENR, an NBC affiliate. For the two years that Cooper produced the program, Lights Out was often a tongue-in cheek, Grand Guignol type of show. By the time Cooper left in 1936, Lights Out was broadcast nationally and had around 600 fan clubs.

After Cooper left the program, young writer Arch Oboler stepped to the fore. Oboler's work often used stream-of-consciousness narration and highlighted the author's dedication to antifascist liberalism. (In other words, Oboler was woke!) Under Oboler's aegis, Lights Out became radio's premier horror and supernatural fantasy radio program. Even while garnering much praise, Oboler always made sure he credited Cooper for being "the unsung pioneer of radio dramatic techniques."

Oboler left the series in 1938, and the show carried on without him for another year. In 1942, Oboler revived the series, breathing life into the show for another year. Lights Out was revived from time to time over the next few years, using scripts from previous iterations. From 1949 to 1952, Lights Out made the jump to television as a live program. And while there have been many attempts over the years to resuscitate the show on TV, Lights Out remains a program best enjoyed by the ear and not the eye.

For our first episode today, we are going back to the year 1938. Arch Oboler says in his introduction to "Super Feature" (also known as "Monster off the Screen" and "Creature off the Film"):

"Someone asked me what's the most frightening thing in the world. My answer was 'The familiar.' The common, everyday thing that is no longer commonplace."

I think that is an answer that Richard Matheson and Stephen King would understand very well. In "Super Feature," two men bring a motion picture show to a small town. One of the films is a monster movie, but it seems that the silver screen isn't big enough to hold the creature!

Next, we have the story "Knock at the Door" from 1942. It's a tale as old as time: a young woman decides to murder her mother-in-law for gain. If you heard it once, you heard it a million times, amirite? The one difference to this story is the older woman doesn't stay dead.

Our last Lights Out episode is from 1943. It is called "The Dream" (not to be confused with another episode by the same name starring Boris Karloff). A woman refuses to sleep in order to avoid a recurring nightmare about a child asking for his father. Unfortunately, her doctor prescribes sleeping pills, and she soon comes face to face with her fear. What is real...and what is the dream?

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: Vincent Price

Halloween is a scant five days away, Faithful Reader, and we have a very special Blog-o-ween entry planned for you. Today, we celebrate the radio career of the devilishly debonair, the suavely spooky, the creepy and classy Vincent Price.

Vincent Price was born in May, 1911, in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1933, he graduated from Yale University with a degree in English and a minor in Art History. (Let's hear it for English majors!) While in London studying for a master's degree in Fine Arts, Price became interested in acting and appeared on stage in 1934. By 1935, he was performing with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre.

Once back in the States, Price found work in Hollywood, playing in a wide variety of films like Laura (1944) and Leave Her to Heaven (1945), both with Gene Tierney, Service de Luxe (1938), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and The Web (1947). However, Price became best known for his work in horror pictures, such as Tower of London (1939) with Boris Karloff and House of Wax (1953) with Chuck Bronson(!).

In the 1960s, Price teamed up with Roger Corman and American International Pictures to make a cycle of films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, one of Price's favorite artists. For AIP, he made The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). In 1968, he made Witchfinder General for Tigon British Film Productions. This Michael Reeves film is consider to be one of the "unholy three" (along with The Wicker Man and The Blood on Satan's Claw) of the Flk Horror movement.

In the 1970s, Price made The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), and Theatre of Blood (1973).  He also appeared in less violent fare, such as The Muppet Show and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

If he is known at all today by the average person, it's probably either by his voice acting on Michael Jackson's hit song "Thriller" or his last work on film, Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990).

A fantastic career on film, yes, but what about old time radio, you ask? Vincent Price spent the years 1947 to 1951 playing Simon Templar, otherwise known as The Saint. The three episodes will will listen to today have Price in less than saintly circumstances, which is really how we prefer him, no?

First up is an episode of a BBC show called The Price of Fear. It ran from 1973 to 1983. The show's episodes are all based upon the fictional adventure of a man named...Vincent Price! This episode is called "The Waxwork," and it is based on the A.M. Burrage short story. Price bumps into an old writer friend at a pub. The man has been invited to spend all night in the "Chamber of Horrors" at the local waxwork museum. One of the statues is of one Doctor Bordet, a serial killer better known as the "Terror of Paris." He escaped from the asylum he was sent to, but the authoritues presume him to be dead...and there's no reason to doubt the authorities is there?

Next is an episode of Suspense from 1959. Based on the short story by Ambrose Bierce, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is the tale of a man being executed during the American Civil War. He is to be hung from a railroad bridge. When he falls from the bridge, the rope breaks, and he makes his escape through Owl Creek. He tries to make it back to his wife, but his journey is a waking nightmare. Will he make it back home? What are the strange constellations he sees in the sky and the unknown language he hears whispered in his ears?

Last, we have my favorite Vincent Price radio performance. "Three Skeleton Key" is based on the 1937 short story by French author Georges-Gustave Toudouze. It was adapted for the radio many times; this particular performance is from Escape. Three men tend a lighthouse off the coast of French Guiana. An abandoned ship crashes onto the island and from it come a ravenous horde of rats. The rats swarm over the lighthouse, and the men must engage in a life-and-death struggle to survive. As the tagline for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre goes: "Who will be left...and what will be left of them?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: The Black Tapes

It's six days until the BIG day, and we are coming to the end of our month-long celebration of spooky old time radio here at LARPing Real Life. Not to say that everything that has come before has been run-of-the-mill -- far from it! -- but what we have planned for this week is pretty special, if I do say so myowndamnself. We'll have Vincent Price stuck in a lighthouse surrounded by rats, Robert Taylor wondering what the blood oozing out of his new house's closet will do for its resale value, and a trio of tales based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. You're gonna wanna stay tuned as we get down to the nitty and the gritty.

Not that Gritty!

Today, we are going to look at the last of a quartet of podcasts that I think are prime examples of modern audio drama: The Black Tapes.

The Black Tapes is a fictionalized nonfiction podcast best described as “Serial meets The X-Files.” Created by Paul Bae and Terry Miles, The Black Tapes ran for three seasons from May, 2015 to November, 2017. The podcast follows the exploits of radio host Alex Reagan (Lori Henry), who sets out to explore the world of paranormal investigation for the National Radio Alliance show Pacific Northwest Stories (not a real thing). While interviewing people for her story, Alex meets the enigmatic (and stuffy as all get out) Dr. Richard Strand (Christian Sloan), a man dedicated to debunking all things paranormal. Strand keeps records of all his cases on VHS in white boxes. There are, however, a series of tapes in black cases. These are cases that Strand was unable to prove or disprove. Alex becomes intrigued, and she and Strand begin to go through these black tapes.

Like some of the other podcasts we've looked at for Blog-o-ween (Limetown and Video Palace), The Black Tapes sounds exactly like an NPR show. The line between fiction and nonfiction is always blurred. Bae and Miles do a really fine job of creating verisimilitude by creating realistic backstories and folding in real people and real events into the overall story. The soundscape that the show’s producers created is absolutely pitch perfect. The in-the-field recordings have the feel of actual on-the-spot interviews.

Alex’s and Dr. Strand’s reactions to what they see and hear also seem very realistic. Alex, like Mulder on The X-Files, wants to believe, while Strand, the Scully of the two, is always undercutting what we know to be true. It does begin to get tiring to hear Strand continually debunk the reality of what they are witnessing, but like The X-Files, this incredulity on Strand’s part does evolve.

The first season in particular makes for really great spooky listening. “The Unsound,” about a mysterious piece of audio that was supposedly created by the Devil himself, and “Turn that Frown Upside Down,” about a Maine town with a local legend - the Woman with the Upside Down Face - that can kill you if you see it, are two of the best episodes of audio drama that I’ve heard. But like all great stories, you have to start at the beginning with "A Tale of Two Tapes, Part I."

Monday, October 24, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: Agnes Moorehead

Folks, we are one week out from Halloween! One week! Can you believe it? Where has the time gone? Usually at this point in Blog-o-ween, I'm pretty pooped and running on fumes, but today I'm still feeling pretty good, even though I had an early morning doctor's appointment -- tetanus booster, flu shot, shingles vaxx, and bloodwork be damned!

...if you need me, I'll be on the floor...

Today, we are spotlighting another of old time radio's brightest stars. Agnes Moorehead was born in December, 1900, in Clinton, Massachusetts. Later, her family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Moorehead joined the chorus of the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company. In 1923, while earning a bachelor's degree in biology from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, she appeared in several college stage plays. After her family moved again (this time to Reedsburg, Wisconsin), she taught public school while earning her master's degree English and public speaking at the University of Wisconsin. After getting her master's, she went on to pursue postgraduate studies, this time at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She graduated in 1929. With honors.

While acting on the stage in New York City, Moorehead began working in radio and found herself to be in high demand. Radio work gave her the chance to flex different acting muscles. By 1937, she was part of Orson Welles's Mercury Players. She starred in many broadcasts of The Mercury Theater on the Air, as well as opposite Welles on The Shadow. When Welles moved the troupe to Hollywood, Moorehead followed. She acted in Welles's films Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Journey Into Fear. As she became more and more popular as a film actress, Moorehead ensured that her contracts allowed her to continue her acting on radio, too.

The three episodes we are featuring today are all from "Radio's Outstanding Theater of Thrills," Suspense. No other actor appeared in more episodes of Suspense than did Agnes Moorehead. After listening to today's offerings, it should be apparent why.

First up, Moorehead stars in an adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." Moorehead plays a new mother who, for her health (natch!), is being kept in a room by her husband. The room is decorated with yellowing wallpaper in which the woman sees a disturbing pattern that begins to take over her mind.

Next is a Ray Bradbury story called "The Whole Town Sleeping." Moorehead is a lonely spinster who bravely chooses to walk across a dark ravine at night, knowing full well that there is a killer on the loose! Will she make home in time?

Last is the story for which Agnes Moorehead is best known. Orson Welles, someone who knew a thing or three about writing for radio, called Lucille Fletcher's story "Sorry, Wrong Number" "the greatest single radio script ever written." It is hard to argue with that assessment as "Sorry, Wrong Number" is a well-built, streamlined, thrill ride from start to finish. Essentially a one-woman play, "Sorry, Wrong Number" is about an invalid, Mrs. Stevenson, who accidentally overhears two men plotting a murder on her phone. She tries to get help via the telephone from many sources -- the phone operator, the police, and the hospital -- but none can help her. Soon, she realizes that the potential murder victim is...herself!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Blog-o-ween 2022: Suspense

On July 22, 1940, the Columbia Broadcasting System aired an episode of Forecast, which was used by CBS to test new show ideas. On this particular evening, Forecast brought its listening audience a thriller directed by Hollywood's newest resident, Alfred Hitchcock. The play Hitchcock chose was an adaptation of one of his early films, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927). Hitchcock's take on the Jack the Ripper story was a big hit, and it set the tone for the radio show that CBS developed afterwards.

Suspense became one of the most successful programs of the Golden Age of Radio and its twenty-two year run is testimony to that. Subtitled "Radio's Outstanding Theater of Thrills," Suspense drew an impressive array of talent to its microphone over the the years. In addition to Alfred Hitchcock, listeners heard the talents of Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Charles Laughton, Loretta Young, Lillian Gish, Gene Kelly, Alan Ladd, Ida Lupino, Olivia de Havilland, Orson Welles, James Stewart, and many, many more! Many of these talented people were attracted to Suspense because it allowed them to play against type. Where else could you hear Jack Benny and Eve Arden play scheming killers?

While Suspense had many sponsors over the years, I think most old time radio fans tend to associate Roma Wines with the program. From 1943 to 1948, the Fresno, CA-based wine company hawked its wares to Suspense's audience by assuring listeners that Roma Wine was “America’s largest selling wine” and was “Made in California for enjoyment throughout the world.”

Today, we have three episodes of Suspense's more horror-centric stories. First up is "Fugue in C Minor," written by Lucille Fletcher and starring Vincent Price and Ida Lupino. Ol' Vinnie plays a widower looking to make Ms. Lupino his new wife. Good news: Price owns a very large house. Bad news: said house is built around a enormous pipe organ. Worse news: Price's children tell Lupino that they think their father murdered their mother and the woman's ghost inhabits the organ!

Next is a two-parter -- "Donovan's Brain," based on the Kurt Siodmak novel and starring Orson Welles. Welles portrays Dr. Patrick Cory, who has been experimenting recently on keeping the brains of dead monkeys alive. A nearby plane crash brings the ruthless robber baron, William Donovan, into Cory's life and his lab. Cory succeeds in keeping the industrialist's brain alive, but Donovan doesn't let the fact that he doesn't have a body stop him from taking over Cory's mind.

Last, we have what an early entry into the found-footage genre: "Ghost Hunt." Ralph Edwards plays Smiley Smith, a radio deejay who records his night in a house where four people are known to have committed suicide.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Blog-o-ween: H.P. Lovecraft

It seems strange to say it, but one of the most influential artists on 21st century horror is an early 20th century pulp fiction Anglophile who styled himself after 19th century writers and who wished he'd lived in 18th century, pre-Revolution America. H.P. Lovecraft and his ideas about "cosmic horror" are ubiquitous across all media: movies, music, comic books, board games, video games, role-playing games, etc.

It also seems strange that so many people should find something of worth in the works of a man who is very problematic from a 21st century point-of-view. Name a race, a gender, a sexual orientation, a national origin, attach the suffix “-phobe” to the end, and you’d have a pretty accurate description of the man.

Yet, there’s something about Lovecraft's work, his description of the creatures from “outside” our world, and our petty human understanding of them that inexplicably draws people to them. Black, white, gay, straight, men, women, and every point on the spectrum these terms try to define – everyone, it seems, finds something in Lovecraft that they can use in their own work and in their own way. For instance, HBO’s Lovecraft Country, Victor LaValle’s novel The Ballad of Black Tom, and Chris Spivey’s Harlem Unbound (an excellent sourcebook for the RPG Call of Cthulhu), are all works by black artists about the black experience that use Lovecraft’s world, but not his worldview.

Perhaps one of the ways in which people find a way into Lovecraft’s work is via his overarching sense of “cosmic horror.” The opening paragraph of Lovecraft’s short story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” serves as a good definition of what that terms meant for him:

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

While today we half expect to find Lovecraft and the Lovecraftian in our horror films, TV, and other media, such was not always the case. During his lifetime, Lovecraft was not much read, respected, or remunerated. Seen as merely a pulp writer, Lovecraft's work was considerd to be beneath any serious examination by literary critics of the day. It wasn't until after his death in 1937 from stomach cancer that the Lovecraft renaissance began. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei started Arkham House, a publishing company, to preserve Lovecraft's works and keep them in print. Other writers who had exchanged letters with Lovecraft (and Lovecraft was nothing if not a prolific letter writer) and become friends with him, carried on and expanded upon his literary worldview. This "Lovecraft Circle," as they were known, included August Derleth, Clark Aston Smith, and Robert Bloch.

So, where does that leave us? Because Lovecraft was not well known during his life, we don't have much to choose from in terms of old time radio. However, what we do have is top quality.

In 1945, the radio program Suspense aired a version of the classic story "The Dunwich Horror" starring the one and only Ronald Colman as Professor Henry Armitage. It is utterly wonderful and horrifying. Its use of on-the-spot “live” radio reporting into the story – even going so far as to allow a moment or two of “dead air” to heighten the suspense and terror – is a nod to Lovecraft’s mixing of perspectives, voices, and media into his stories.

If you are interested in seeing what Wilbur Whateley may have looked like, then I urge you to visit the YouTube channel of SFX artist Chris Walas (Gremlins, Enemy Mine, Scanners). It will forever change the way you perceive papier-mâché.

Next, we have an episode of the 1960s KPFA (Berkeley)/KPFK (Los Angeles) radio show, The Black Mass. We've already touched upon this show earlier for Blog-o-ween. In fact, we highlighted their adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story "The Outsider." (You can read about that and listen to it here.)

The Black Mass was also responsible for another excellent Lovecraft adaptation. In 1964, they aired "The Rats in the Walls." In this story, an American named Delapore, the last descendant of the De la Poer family, moves to his ancestral estate of Exham Priory in England following the death of his only son during World War I. While he restores the estate, he begins to hear the scurrying of rats in the walls. As he searches for explanations for the sounds, he soon discovers the truth about his family and himself. Truth that may be...hard to swallow...heh-heh-heh!

I would be remiss in my duties as host (and all-around swell guy) if I failed to mention the work of The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Formed in 1986 in Boulder, Colorado, by theater people who enjoyed playing the the role-playing game Call of CthulhuHPLHS moved the game from their kitchen table to the world at large, essentially turning it into a live action role play, or LARP for short. To make the game seem more real, they created props for their LARPs.

Soon, the HPLHS began creating a fanzine and short films based on Lovecraft's work. They created The Call of Cthulhu in 2005, a silent film rendition of the Lovecraft story. They also produce many "old time radio" adaptations via their Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. You can find these episodes here.