Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Mysterious Traveler

The Mysterious Traveler was an anthology radio series, a magazine and a comic book. All three featured stories which ran the gamut from fantasy and science fiction to straight crime dramas of mystery and suspense.

 Written and directed by Robert Arthur and David Kogan, the radio series was sponsored by Adams Hats. It began on the Mutual Broadcasting System, December 5, 1943, continuing in many different timeslots until September 16, 1952. The lonely sound of a distant locomotive heralded the arrival of the malevolent narrator (portrayed by Maurice Tarplin), who introduced himself each week in the following manner:

"This is the Mysterious Traveler, inviting you to join me on another journey into the realm of the strange and terrifying. I hope you will enjoy the trip, that it will thrill you a little and chill you a little. So settle back, get a good grip on your nerves and be comfortable—if you can!" 

Cast members included Jackson Beck, Lon Clark, Roger DeKoven, Elspeth Eric, Wendell Holmes, Bill Johnstone, Joseph Julian, Jan Miner, Santos Ortega, Bryna Raeburn, Frank Readick, Luis van Rooten, Ann Shepherd, Lawson Zerbe and Bill Zuckert. Sound effects were by Jack Amrhein, Jim Goode, Ron Harper, Walt McDonough and Al Schaffer.

"Behind the Locked Door," a popular, much-requested episode which took place in total darkness, was repeated several times during the years. Two archaeologists discover a century-old wagon train that had been sealed in a cave following a landslide. When their Native American guide is mysteriously and brutally attacked, the two, now lost in the darkness, conclude that the descendants of the wagon train are still living in the cave.

Only 75 of the original 370 Mysterious Traveler episodes still exist. The popularity of the series spawned other supernatural shows, such as The Sealed Book. With scripts by a Mysterious Traveler writer and Tarplin as host-narrator, The Strange Dr. Weird was a nearly identical program.

Grace Publishing's 1951-52 Mysterious Traveler digest-sized magazine ran for five issues with cover paintings by famed pulp illustrator Norman Saunders. The publisher was David Kogan, and managing editor Robert Arthur also contributed many stories.

Trans-World Publications' one-shot Mysterious Traveler Comics #1 (Nov. 1948) had a direct tie-in with the radio series, including the story "Five Miles Down," taken directly from an episode scripted for the radio program. Only a single issue was published.

Charlton Comics published a separate Tales of the Mysterious Traveler comic book for 13 issues from 1956 to 1959, followed by two more issues in 1985 shortly before the company went under. Steve Ditko illustrated many stories in this title. Stories intended for future issues saw print in Renegade Press's Murder. In 1990, Eclipse Comics published a large-format paperback collecting 19 Ditko stories from the Charlton title. Some of those stories were reprinted in Pure Imagination's Steve Ditko Reader.

Via Wikipedia

Friday, February 6, 2015

Lux Radio Theater

Lux Radio Theater, a long-run classic radio anthology series, was broadcast on the NBC Blue Network (1934-35); CBS (1935-54) and NBC (1954-55). Initially, the series adapted Broadway plays during its first two seasons before it began adapting films. These hour-long radio programs were performed live before studio audiences. It became the most popular dramatic anthology series on radio, broadcast for more than 20 years and continued on television as the Lux Video Theatre through most of the 1950s.

Broadcasting from New York, the series premiered at 2:30pm, October 14, 1934, on the NBC Blue Network with a production of Seventh Heaven starring Miriam Hopkins and John Boles in a full-hour adaptation of the 1922–24 Broadway production by Austin Strong.

Lux Radio Theater strove to feature as many of the original stars of the original stage and film productions as possible, usually paying them $5,000 an appearance. In 1936, when sponsor Lever Brothers (who made Lux soap and detergent) moved the show from New York City to Hollywood, the program began to emphasize adaptations of films rather than plays. The first Lux film adaptation was The Legionnaire and the Lady, with Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable, based on the film Morocco. That was followed by a Lux adaptation of The Thin Man, featuring the movie's stars, Myrna Loy and William Powell. Many of leading names in stage and film appeared in the series, most in the roles they made famous on the screen.

 During its years on CBS in Hollywood, Lux Radio Theater was broadcast from the Lux Radio Playhouse located at 1615 North Vine Street in Hollywood, one block south of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. The theater was owned by Howard Hughes in the early 1930's then later renamed the Huntington Hartford Theater when purchased in 1954 by philanthropist Huntington Hartford, the Doolittle Theater and is now the Ricardo Montalban Theater.

 The Lux Video Theatre began as a live 30-minute Monday evening CBS series October 2, 1950, switching to Thursday nights during August 1951. In September 1953, the show relocated from New York to Hollywood. In August 1954, it jumped to NBC as an hour-long show on Thursday nights, telecast until September 12, 1957.

Many more broadcasts available at these fine links -

OTR Network Library: Lux Radio Theater (276 1936-55 episodes)
Lux Radio Theater (1936-52) in The Internet Archive's Old-Time Radio Collection

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

George Burns and Gracie Allen

Burns and Allen, an American comedy duo consisting of George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen, worked together as a comedy team in vaudeville, films, radio and television and achieved great success over four decades.

Burns and Allen met in 1922 and first performed together at the Hill Street Theatre in Newark, New Jersey, continued in small town vaudeville theaters, married in Cleveland on January 7, 1926, and moved up a notch when they signed with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit in 1927.

 Burns wrote most of the material and played the straight man. Allen played a silly, addle-headed woman, a role often attributed to the "Dumb Dora" stereotype common in early 20th-century vaudeville comedy. Early on, the team had played the opposite roles until they noticed that the audience was laughing at Gracie's straight lines, so they made the change. In later years, each attributed their success to the other.

In 1929 they made their first radio appearance in London on the BBC. Back in America, they failed at a 1930 NBC audition. After a solo appearance by Gracie on Eddie Cantor's radio show, they were heard together on Rudy Vallee's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour and on February 15, 1932 they became regulars on The Guy Lombardo Show on CBS. When Lombardo switched to NBC, Burns and Allen took over his CBS spot with The Adventures of Gracie beginning September 19, 1934.

Along the way, the duo launched the temporary running gag that made them near-irrevocable radio stars: the famous hunt for Gracie's "lost brother," which began on January 4, 1933 and eventually became a cross-network phenomenon. Gracie was also liable to turn up on other shows (especially those produced by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which produced the Burns & Allen series) looking for her brother. Bad publicity after a bid by NBC to squelch the stunt---and an accidental mention by Rudy Vallee on his Fleischmann's Hour---helped the stunt continue, according to radio historian John Dunning's On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, which also mentioned that Gracie's real brother, a "publicity-shy accountant" living in San Francisco, went into hiding until the gag ran its course.

Burns and Allen followed this up with another stunt: "Gracie Allen for President." During the election year of 1940, Gracie represented the fictitious Surprise Party and advocated nonsense as part of her platform. The "campaign" was successful enough for Gracie to actually receive write-in votes on election day.

The title of their top-rated show changed to The Burns and Allen Show on September 26, 1936. One successful episode, Grandpa's 92nd Birthday, aired on 8 July 1940. In 1941 they moved from comedy patter into a successful sitcom format, continuing with shows on NBC and CBS until May 17, 1950. As in the early days of radio, the sponsor's name became the show title, such as Maxwell House Coffee Time (1945–49).

Burns and Allen had several regulars on radio, including Toby Reed, Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet, Gracie's real-life friend Mary "Bubbles" Kelly, Ray Noble, singers Jimmy Cash and Tony Martin and actor/writer/director Elliott Lewis. The Sportsmen Quartet (appearing as "The Swantet" during the years the show was sponsored by Swan Soap) supplied songs and occasionally backed up Cash. Meredith Willson, Artie Shaw and announcers Bill Goodwin and Harry Von Zell, who were usually made a part of the evening's doings, often as additional comic foils for the duo.

 When The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, aka The Burns and Allen Show, began on CBS Television October 12, 1950, it was an immediate success. The show was originally staged live before a studio audience (during its first three months, it originated from the Mansfield Theatre in New York, then relocated to CBS' Columbia Square facilities in Los Angeles). Ever the businessman, Burns realized it would be more efficient to do the series on film (beginning in the fall of 1952); the half-hour episodes could then be syndicated. From that point on, the show was shot without a live audience present, however, each installment would be screened before an audience to provide live responses prior to the episodes being broadcast. With 291 episodes, the show had a long network run through 1958 and continued in syndicated reruns for years.

After the live series ended, the shows were filmed at General Service Studios. The sets were designed to look like their real-life residence, often using an establishing shot of the actual house at 312 Maple Drive in Beverly Hills, California. Although extensively remodelled, that house still exists today—including the study over the garage where George would "escape" from Gracie's illogical logic. Burns lived in that house for the rest of his life.