Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Shadow!

Easily one of the most favorite old time radio programs in my house is The Shadow. It was one of my dad's favorites growing up, and he passed that love on to my brother and I. Growing up when I did in the 70's and 80's of course these programs were no longer on the radio, so my interest in old time radio began with seeking out AM radio stations rebroadcasting these shows and buying them on cassette tapes.

Today with the advent of the internet and the availability of so many shows in MP3 format for free online, it has been really great to indulge my love of these wonderful old gems.

The Shadow is a collection of serialized dramas, originally in pulp magazines, then on 1930s radio and then in a wide variety of media, that follow the exploits of the title character, a crime-fighting vigilante in the pulps, which carried over to the airwaves as a "wealthy, young man about town" with psychic powers. One of the most famous pulp heroes of the 20th century, the radio drama is well-remembered for those episodes voiced by Orson Welles.

Introduced as a mysterious radio narrator by David Chrisman, William Sweets, and Harry Engman Charlot for Street and Smith Publications, The Shadow was fully developed and transformed into a pop culture icon by pulp writer Walter B. Gibson.

The Shadow debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the Street and Smith radio program Detective Story Hour. After gaining popularity among the show's listeners, the narrator became the star of The Shadow Magazine on April 1, 1931, a pulp series created and primarily written by the prolific Gibson.
Over the years, the character evolved. On September 26, 1937, The Shadow radio drama officially premiered with the story "The Deathhouse Rescue", in which the character had "the power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." This was a contrivance for the radio; in the magazine stories, The Shadow did not have the ability to become literally invisible.

The character and look of The Shadow gradually evolved over his lengthy fictional existence.

As depicted in the pulps, The Shadow wore a black slouch hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit. In the 1940s comic books, the later comic book series, and the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, he wore either the black slouch hat or a wide-brimmed, black fedora and a crimson scarf just below his nose and across his mouth and chin. Both the cloak and scarf covered either a black doubled-breasted trench coat or regular black suit. As seen in some of the later comics series, the hat and scarf would also be worn with either a black Inverness coat or Inverness cape.

But in the radio drama, which debuted in 1937, The Shadow became an invisible avenger who had learned, while "traveling through East Asia," "the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him." This revision of the character was born out of necessity: Time constraints of 1930s radio made it difficult to explain to listeners where The Shadow was hiding and how he was remaining concealed. Thus, the character was given the power to escape human sight. Voice effects were added to suggest The Shadow's seeming omnipresence.

In order to explain this power, The Shadow was described as a master of hypnotism, as explicitly stated in several radio episodes.

Even after decades, the unmistakable introduction from The Shadow radio program, long-intoned by actor Frank Readick Jr., has earned a place in the American idiom: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" These words were accompanied by an ominous laugh and a musical theme, Camille Saint-Saƫns' Le Rouet d'Omphale ("Omphale's Spinning Wheel", composed in 1872). At the end of each episode, The Shadow reminded listeners, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.... The Shadow knows!"

For more information regarding The Shadow on the radio, in pulp magazines, comic books, comic strips, television, video games, and motion pictures (including the 1994 feature film starring Alex Baldwin, see below.) check out the extensive Wikipedia page here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Inner Sanctum Mysteries

This anthology series featured stories of mystery, terror and suspense, and its tongue-in-cheek introductions were in sharp contrast to shows like Suspense and The Whistler. The early 1940s programs opened with Raymond Edward Johnson introducing himself as, "Your host, Raymond," in a mocking sardonic voice. A spooky melodramatic organ score (played by Lew White) punctuated Raymond's many morbid jokes and playful puns. Raymond's closing was an elongated "Pleasant dreeeeaams, hmmmmm?" His tongue-in-cheek style and ghoulish relish of his own tales became the standard for many such horror narrators to follow, from fellow radio hosts like Ernest Chappell (on Wyllis Cooper's later series, Quiet, Please) and Maurice Tarplin (on The Mysterious Traveler).

When Johnson left the series in May 1945 to serve in the Army, he was replaced by Paul McGrath, who did not keep the "Raymond" name and was known only as "Your Host" or "Mr. Host". (Berry Kroeger had substituted earlier for a total of four episodes). McGrath was a Broadway actor who turned to radio for a regular income. Beginning in 1945, Lipton Tea sponsored the series, pairing first Raymond and then McGrath with cheery commercial spokeswoman Mary Bennett (aka the "Tea Lady"), whose blithesome pitches for Lipton Tea contrasted sharply with the macabre themes of the stories. She primly chided the host for his trademark dark humor and creepy manner.

The program's familiar and famed audio trademark was the eerie creaking door which opened and closed the broadcasts. Himan Brown got the idea from a door in the basement that "squeaked like Hell." The door sound was actually made by a rusty desk chair. The program did originally intend to use a door, but on its first use, the door did not creak. Undaunted, Brown grabbed a nearby chair, sat in it and turned, causing a hair-raising squeak. The chair was used from then on as the sound prop. On at least one memorable occasion, a staffer innocently repaired and oiled the chair, thus forcing the sound man to mimic the squeak orally.

Its campy comedy notwithstanding, the stories were usually effective little chillers, mixing horror and humor in equal doses. Memorable episodes included "Terror by Night" (September 18, 1945) and an adaptation of "The Tell-Tale Heart" (August 3, 1941). The latter starred Boris Karloff, who was heard regularly in the first season, starring in more than 15 episodes and returning sporadically thereafter.

Other established stars in the early years included Mary Astor, Helen Hayes, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas, Claude Rains, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles. Most of the lead and supporting players were stalwarts of New York radio. These included Santos Ortega, Larry Haines, Ted Osborne, Luis van Rooten, Stefan Schnabel, Ralph Bell, Mercedes McCambridge, Berry Kroeger, Lawson Zerbe, Arnold Moss, Leon Janney, Myron McCormick, Ian Martin, and Mason Adams. Players like Richard Widmark, Everett Sloane, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Ken Lynch, Anne Seymour, and Santos Ortega also found fame or notability in film or television.
Of more than 500 programs broadcast, only about 200 remain in circulation, sometimes minus dates or titles.

A series of six low-budget Universal Horror movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr. and based on the radio show was produced in the 1940s: Calling Dr. Death (1943), Weird Woman (1944), Dead Man's Eyes (1944), The Frozen Ghost (1945), Strange Confession (1945) and Pillow of Death (1945).A Film Classics release Inner Sanctum was made in 1948.

The 1954 syndicated television series featured Paul McGrath as the off-camera host/narrator. The TV shows were produced at the Chelsea Studios in New York City.

In the 1970s, with his CBS Radio Mystery Theater series, Himan Brown recycled both the creaking door opening, and to a lesser extent, the manner of Raymond. The hosts were E. G. Marshall and Tammy Grimes. In later repeats during the 1990s, Brown himself mimicked Raymond's "Pleasant dreeeeaaams, hmmmmm?" for the familiar closing.

Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Dragnet, the brainchild of Jack Webb, may very well be the most well-remembered, and the best, radio police drama series. From September, 1949 through February 1957, Dragnet's 30 minute shows, broadcast on NBC, brought to radio true police stories in a low-key, documentary style.

The origins of Dragnet can be traced to a semi-documentary film,  "He Walked by Night" from 1948, in which Webb had a small role. Both employed the same Los Angeles Police Department technical adviser, used actual police cases and presented the case in "just the facts" manner that became a hallmark of Dragnet. It is interesting to note that Webb employed that format in other radio series, some pre-dating the film mentioned above.

Dragnet was a long running radio and television police procedural drama, about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a Dragnet, meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in American media history. The series gave millions of Americans a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media. The shows cultural impact is demonstrated by the fact that even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never heard nor seen the program. The ominous four note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music, titled Danger Ahead, is instantly recognizable as well as the shows opening narration:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday ran on radio from June 3rd, 1949 to February 26th, 1957; and on television from December 16th, 1951 to August 23rd, 1959, and from January 12th, 1967 to April 16th, 1970. All of these versions ran on NBC. There were two Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Jack Webb in 1954, and a comedy spoof in 1987. There were also television revivals, without Webb, in 1989 and 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia and

Other Dragnet links:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Screen Guild Theater

The Screen Guild Theater is a popular radio anthology series during the Golden Age of Radio, broadcast from 1939 until 1952, with leading Hollywood actors performing in adaptations of popular motion pictures such as Going My Way and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

 The show had a long run, lasting for 14 seasons and 527 episodes. It initially was heard on CBS from January 8, 1939 until June 28, 1948, continuing on NBC from October 7, 1948 until June 29, 1950. It was broadcast on ABC from September 7, 1950 to May 31, 1951 and returned to CBS on March 13, 1952. It aired under several different titles: The Gulf Screen Guild Show, The Gulf Screen Guild Theater, The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater and The Camel Screen Guild Theater.

 Actors on the series included Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Cantor, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Nelson Eddy, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Johnny Mercer, Agnes Moorehead, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore. Fees these actors would typically charge were donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, in order to support the creation and maintenance of the Motion Picture Country Home for retired actors.

 The series came to an end on CBS June 29, 1952.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Whistler

"I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak." -Opening to The Whistler

The Whistler was an American radio mystery drama which ran from May 16, 1942 until September 22, 1955. It was sponsored by the Signal Oil Company: "That whistle is your signal for the Signal Oil program, The Whistler." The program was adapted into a film noir series by Columbia Pictures in 1944.

 The stories followed formula in which a person's criminal acts were typically undone either by an overlooked but important detail or by their own stupidity. On rare occasions a curious twist of fate caused the story to end happily for the episode's protagonist. Ironic twist endings were a key feature of each episode. The Whistler himself narrated, often commenting directly upon the action in the manner of a Greek chorus, taunting the criminal from an omniscient perspective.