Sunday, May 1, 2016

Inner Sanctum Mystery

Inner Sanctum Mystery, also known as Inner Sanctum, a popular old-time radio program that aired from January 7, 1941 to October 5, 1952, was created by producer Himan Brown and was based on the generic title given to the mystery novels of Simon and Schuster. In all, 526 episodes were broadcast.

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.

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