Saturday, February 4, 2023

Wings, S02E04, "Sports and Leisure"

It’s a case of “good news/bad news” for Sandpiper Air. The bad news is that Sandpiper’s lone plane is grounded because of a broken nose wheel strut. A new part to fix the problem won’t be available for a few days, meaning Sandpiper’s passengers have to be transferred to their competitor, AeroMass. What could possibly be the silver lining to this gray cloud? Why, everyone gets to go fishing on Lowell’s boat, that’s what!

Said silver lining becomes a tad tarnished, however, when Roy invites himself along for the ride. After the fishing trip becomes an impromptu morning swim thanks to Roy’s practical joking, the gang want nothing further to do with him. Faye, unfortunately, has already invited Roy to their Trivial Pursuit game night at Helen’s on Friday.

Will everyone accept Roy for who he is and make him feel at home? Can Roy change his entire personality for the good of the group? Will Roy bring his famed pasta salad? What does Ann-Margaret have to do with all this?

This episode has the feel of — dare I say it? — filler. All the scenes occur on only two sets, the terminal at Tom Nevers Field and Helen’s living room. The only characters are our familiar core group of players. We don’t have any outsiders imposing themselves on the action. In fact, we don’t really learn anything new about our characters, although Roy’s desire to be as well-liked as Joe is a new wrinkle. Even that, however, is ironed out by the end of the episode, leaving us exactly where we started.

Written by show creator David Angell, “Sports and Leisure” feels like the result of an early brainstorming session. I can imagine Angell sitting around with fellow show creators Peter Casey and David Lee and throwing out the idea for the heck of it: “What if Roy joined the rest of the gang on an outing?” It’s a good concept, but not a great one. It is something you could probably knock out quickly and keep in your backpocket on a “just in case” basis. Not every swing of the bat brings forth a home run. Sometimes you gotta make due with an infield dribbler that just gets you to first base.

That being said, there are a few highlights to...well...highlight. As usual, when he’s on screen, Thomas Haden Church as “Lowell” steals the show. Early on, the group tries to convince Joe to play hooky with them on Lowell’s boat. Joe is sure that Lowell is doing his best to fix the plane so Sandpiper doesn’t have to shut down for the day. Lowell walks out of the hanger with a fishing rod in his hand and the back of his shirt hooked at the end of the line.

Lowell: Can somebody give me a hand over here? I was practicing casting and—

Brian: Lowell, Lowell, please, I think we can piece together the rest of this perplexing mystery.

Joe [helping Lowell untangle himself]: What about that strut, Lowell?

Lowell: Ah, a nose wheel strut is a very tricky piece of equipment, Joe.

Joe: Yeah, you said that an hour ago.

Lowell: I don’t think I said ‘very.’

Later, at Helen’s, as the gang prepares for Roy’s visit, Joe regales them with the story of how Roy opened up to him emotionally:

Joe: I’m telling you, if you guys could have seen Roy in the hangar the other day, he was like a little boy.

Lowell: Did he still have the mustache?

Now there’s a visual for you: a little Roy with a big mustache. Good times!

Lowell is also at the center of the comedic whirlwind that is the Trivial Pursuit game. Teamed up with Roy for the night, Lowell proceeds to drive poor Roy up a tree by blurting out the answer to every question without conferring with his partner. Worse, his every answer is wrong. Worse still, his every answer is Ann-Margaret. What lovable redhead and her Cuban husband starred in their own television series in the Fifties? Ann-Margaret! Who is the largest user of silver in the world? Ann-Margaret! And my favorite:

Joe: What does Simon Wiesenthal hunt?

Lowell: Ann-Margaret!

Joe [makes buzzer sound]: Fugitive Nazis.

Roy: Simon Wiesenthal hunts Ann-Margaret?

Lowell: Well, I thought he might be one of those crazed fans, Roy.

Do I need to add that Ann-Margaret ends up being the correct answer to one of the questions? Do I also need to add that neither Roy nor Lowell say Ann-Margaret? No, I didn’t think so...

In the “Do modern viewers still know who this person is?” department, we have two references. The first is when everyone gets together very early in the morning for the fishing trip. Helen says, “I can’t believe I’m up before Willard Scott.”

During his lifetime, Willard Scott was an actor, a comedian, and an author. He was, at one point, Bozo the Clown, and also created the role of Ronald McDonald. But he is best known as the weatherman on NBC’s weekday morning show, TODAY. From 1980 to 1996, Scott was the man who many Americans turned to for their weather forecasts. Scott was a born showman, sometimes donning a costume for his weather spots. Once he dressed as Boy George, another time he was Carmen Miranda. He was also famous for his birthday segments where he celebrated the birthday of centenarians across the country. After 1996, Scott went into semi-retirement, handing the weather prognosticating reins over to Al Roker. Scott filled in from time to time until his full retirement in 2015. All in all, Willard Scott spent 65 years at NBC, a remarkable run.

During the same scene, Roy shows up to everyone’s surprise and consternation. As they leave for their fishing trip, Roy slaps a cassette into his boom box and says, “I hope you guys like Slim Whitman. I’ve got 75 of his greatest hits. They’re not available in stores, you know.”

Oh, they know, Roy. They know.

I for one would love to track down every instance in pop culture where Slim Whitman rears his thin-mustache-sporting, Brylecreemed-hairdo-styling, voice-of-an-angel-yodeling head. Poor Slim. For a good long while, the guy was a falsetto-voiced punching bag, an easy target for every lazy comedian or writer who wanted a straw man to feel superior to. For a time there on TV and in the movies, if you had a character that you wanted to paint as a total dweeb and all-around uncool cat, you only had to slip their preference for the music of Slim Whitman in somewhere, and audiences got the message.

Born in 1923, Whitman was a country music singer known for kicking his voice into the upper registers from time to time. His career spanned over 70 years, and during that time he pumped out over 100 albums and over 500 songs, from country-and-western to gospel to show tunes to standards. Heck, Slim even opened for the King, Elvis Presley in the 1950s.

What made Whitman ripe for the jokesters, however, was his television commercials. Beginning in 1979, Whitman began marketing his music via TV ads that claimed he was “number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles.” Over the next decade or so, Whitman released five albums of tunes over the air, all of which were huge sellers and helped resuscitate his career.

So who’s the joke on now, huh?

We’re coming up to the final boarding call, but there’s one more little thing I want to talk about. Maybe it says more about me and my personal quirks, but I found it interesting. As they are getting ready to leave, Joe notices that Helen is maybe not properly dressed for the weather:

Joe: Helen, it’s going to be hot today. Why didn’t you wear shorts?

Helen: I didn’t have time to shave my legs.

Brian [disgusted]: Oh, whoa! Check, please!

Joe [equally disgusted]: Really? Couldn’t you have made something up?

Really, fellas? A little hair on a woman’s legs is going to send you into paroxysms of revulsion and nausea? Sheesh! Get over yourselves, will ya? I’ve never understood the aversion to hair on the female body. As someone who tries to shave his face as seldom as possible, I cannot fathom being pressured by society’s expectations into making sure my body is completely hairless before leaving the house. Everyday. So weird.

On that note, folks, if you look out the cabin windows, you’ll see that the weather is getting a little hairy. We probably should have taken Willard Scott’s weather forecast to heart. Nevertheless, we will try to make our final descent as smooth as possible. Please do your part by helping our crew tidy up. Make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright positions. Place your carry-on luggage beneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins, then securely fasten your seat belts. And, no, that high-pitched whine you hear is not our nose wheel strut threatening to fall off. It’s just your pilot’s 8-track tape of Slim Whitman’s Greatest Hits. A little blast of “Indian Love Call” does wonders to focus the mind, you know.

Our next flight is season two's fifth episode, “A Standup Kind of Guy.” Until next time...

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!