Categories
Old Time Radio

Man of a Thousand Voices when One was Enough: William Conrad

William Conrad in Gunsmoke

The movie hero generally fits a specific physical type. Not necessarily handsome in the classic sense, he has a manly, rugged appearance, tall, with a V-shaped torso, tapering from wide, solid shoulders to a narrow waistline. In classic films, he may not have the chiseled “six-pack abs” which are the trademark of modern leading men, but there is an undeniable masculine toughness about him. Fortunately, Hollywood has nearly as many of this type running around as it does pretty girls.

On the radio, the equivalent of broad shoulders and a narrow waist is a commanding basso profundo voice. Several actors were blessed with such a commanding voice, but few were able to use it to the degree William Conrad did, especially when we consider how far Conrad was physically from the leading man type.

William Conrad Hazel Brooks

William Conrad was born in Lexington, Kentucky, 1920, where his parents owned and operated a movie theater. Little Bill was babysat by the flickering light of the projector and growing up with the scent of popcorn in his nostrils there is little wonder that he dreamed of becoming one of the screen heroes who were a part of his daily life. It seemed that he might have his chance during high school when the family left Kentucky for Los Angeles. The youngster soon discovered that, as mentioned above, there were dozens if not hundreds of leading men types in town, all looking for their big break n the studio system.

One place that surprisingly few of them were looking was in local radio. In 1934, Detroit businessman George A “Dick” Richards paid $125,000 for a controlling interest in Los Angeles station KMPC, making it the third jewel in his “Good Will Broadcasting Company”, along with WGAR Cleveland and WJR in his native Detroit. Partially to raise capital but mostly as a marketing move, Richards sold minority shares in KMPC to Bing Crosby, Freeman Gosden and Charles Corell (Amos ‘n’ Andy), Paul Whiteman, and Harold Lloyd, and began advertising KMPC as “the Station of the Stars”. All-American tackle Bob Reynolds was retiring from the Detroit Lions (Richards owned the team) in 1938 and joined KMPC’s marketing department and soon became general manager.

Bill Conrad joined KMPC as part of the acting company for The Hermit’s Cave. The horror anthology was a rather direct rip-off of Mutual’s The Witch’s Tale, but it had been successful on WGAR and WJR, so Richards and Reynolds were happy to bring it to the L.A. market.  Conrad’s deep voice and willingness to experiment with microphone technique made him a welcome addition to the company. Other work at KMPC followed and soon he was producing The Hermit’s Cave.

When the War started, Conrad had earned enough of a showbiz background that he might have found a “behind the lines” job but he chose to join the Army Air Corps and train as a fighter pilot. Soon after he won his commission, however, he was diagnosed as suffering from night blindness and was transferred to AFRS as a producer-director. When he mustered out as a Captain, he was in a very good position to continue his radio career. He joined the acting company of The Man Called X and The Whistler along with numerous “Radio Row” gigs.

One of Conrad’s most recognizable parts was intoning the introduction to the CBS adventure anthology Escape: “Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you… Escape!” In fact, the announcing duties for Escape were shared with Paul Frees, one week one of the deep, rich voices would announce while the other acted in the episode, and the next week they would trade places. In addition to a classic part, Escape also gave Conrad a chance to work with director/producer Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston.

When CBS boss Bill Paley asked for ‘a Philip Marlowe set in the Old West’, MacDonnell and Meston came up with Gunsmoke. It was Meston who first advocated for the Escape announcer to breathe life into US Marshal Matt Dillon. Marshal Dillon would be a heroic yet tragic figure. He was determined to uphold the law in a generally lawless territory but saw first hand that the rule of law was not always a civilizing influence at the very edge of civilization. He was prepared to give his own life to preserve justice and it affected him deeply to see examples where even the force of law failed to bring justice to those who deserved it most. Dillon was no matinee hero who would win in every given situation, he enjoyed a beer at the end of a hard day and sometimes he needed something stronger to deal with his job. Miss Kitty was euphemistically described as someone the marshal “has to visit every once in a while”.

William Conrad and microphone

Although it aired when the Golden Age of Radio beginning to lose ground to TV, Gunsmoke was easily one of the greatest dramas commercial radio ever produced, thanks in no small part to the character created by William Conrad. However, adapting the program to television was inevitable, and while he was a great actor there was no way Conrad would be able to carry off the physical appearance the network expected for Matt Dillon at 5’7″ and tipping the scales more than 250 pounds, he was hardy the tall, broad-shouldered and narrow waist type envisioned as a leading man. The fact that his leading man could not play the part on TV may have been one of Norman MacDonnell’s biggest objections to “confining” Gunsmoke to the small screen, but the fact that James Arness was able to play the role for twenty seasons shows that his judgment may have been off.

Conrad seems more accepting of the fact that he would not be acting on TV’s Gunsmoke. He contributed scripts and directed episodes of the TV series and narrated a two-part story during the 1973 season. He managed to land a few roles which took advantage of his girth, including starring in Cannon (1971-1976), Nero Wolfe (1981), and Jake and the Fat Man (1987-1992). His voice work continued on television, including commercials and narrating the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. In 1981, he starred as the famous Masked Man in the animated reboot The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger.

William Conrad suffered a fatal heart attack on February 11, 1994, in Los Angeles. He was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.

Categories
Old Time Radio

Charles Boyer in Old Time Radio

Charles Boyer: Many critics argue that Charles Boyer‘s success in Hollywood is due to the appeal of being a Frenchman. We would suppose that the appeal of Frenchmen is that they are so much like Charles Boyer.

Ever since the Marquis de Lafayette and later the pirate Jean Laffite stepped in to aid the newly formed United States, Americans have gone absolutely bonkers for Frenchmen. This was especially true during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whenever the chips were down in a picture, the doughty Frenchman could be depended upon to flip away his cigarette butt, whisper “c’est la Guerre”, and rush headlong into the fight. When his British or even American cousins had their full attention on the trivialities of business, the Frenchman would have the savoir-faire to think “Cherchez la femme” and give any available lady the attention she needed.

American Cinema’s prototypical Frenchmen was Charles Boyer, although the case could be made that moviegoers enjoyed romantic Frenchmen because they were reminded of Charles Boyer. In the dialect of Southern France, the surname “Boyer” means cowherd. Charles was born in the small town of Figeac in 1899, his father a merchant. Young Charles was a basically shy boy who learned to express himself by watching plays and movies. During the Great War, he worked as a hospital orderly and was popular with the soldiers for performing comic sketches in the wards. 

Boyer’s father helped him to get into the Sorbonne where he studied Philosophy, but he gave more attention to his budding show business career and trying to get into the Paris Conservatory. A stage manager noticed how well he memorized lines and helped to get understudy work. Charles became an overnight success when he appeared in the 1920 play La Bataille, winning more stage work as well as establishing himself in French silent cinema.

Hollywood reached out to Boyer for the first time to star in the French language version of MGM’s groundbreaking prison film The Big House (1930, the French version was Révolte dans la prison, not L’homme du large which was Boyer’s 1920 cinematic debut). He would appear in a few English language films, including Jean Harlow‘s racy Red Headed Woman (1932) before returning to France. For the next several years he worked alternately in France and Hollywood as his Star continued to shine ever brighter. His classic role of Pepe le Moko in Walter Wagner’s Algiers (1938, United Artists), costarred Hedy Lamarr and Sigrid Currie. This is the film that attached him to the line “Come with me to the Casbah”, although Boyer never uttered those words on the screen. 

When France declared War on Germany in 1939, Boyer was in Nice, France, to make a pirate picture. The film was never finished, and Charles immediately volunteered with the French Army, although by November the government convinced him to accept a discharge and return to Hollywood where he would have a greater effect on the War Effort. He would receive an Honorary Oscar Certificate for establishing the French Research Foundation and became a naturalized American Citizen in 1942.

Although there is no denying Boyer’s savoir-faire, he was a small man (shorter than many of his leading ladies) with a noticeable paunch and he began losing his hair at an early age. He wore a toupee while working, but in public proudly displayed this magnificent Gallic dome. Back in 1934, he met British actress Pat Paterson at a dinner party, they fell in love and became engaged within two weeks, marrying three months later. Socially, Boyer described himself as “a stick in the mud” who would rather stay at home and read than engage in the Hollywood nightclub scene. He and Pat moved from Tinsel Town to Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Boyer’s gregarious and fun-loving demeanor made him a popular guest on several radio variety programs, and he was a popular target of Gracie Allen’s flirtations. He reprised several of his film roles for Lux Hollywood Theatre as well as other parts. In 1950, NBC gave him his own radio program, Presenting Charles Boyer.

Although he often played an unattached Continental bon vivant, Boyer’s loyalty to his wife, Pat was boundless, and they had a son, Michael Charles, in 1943. In 1960, he was honored with two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures and for Television. Tragedy struck in 1965 after Michael Charles broke up with a girlfriend, he committed suicide by playing Russian Roulette. Pat succumbed to cancer in 1978, Two days later, on August 26, 1978, Charles Boyer took a fatal dose of Seconal. It was two days before his 79th birthday. Charles Boyer‘s Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are at 6306 and 6308 Hollywood Blvd.

Categories
Old Time Radio

Good Night Debbie Reynolds

For all the glitz and glamour of Golden Age Hollywood, there is a definite sadness as the players from that time are leaving us. The sadness is compounded when we realize that even after a full life many of these celebrities will not be allowed to rest in peace because of the interest their lives generated by the tabloid press.

Few have generated as much interest in the tabloids as Debbie Reynolds. When her death was announced the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher passed away, the tabloids theorized that Ms. Reynolds died of a broken heart. She became a Star in through the studio system while the studio system itself was dying, but it was her personal life and relations to fame that truly caught attention. She was the heartbroken victim in an infamous infidelity scandal, helped breathe life into the Hollywood nostalgia craze both in film and by preserving artifacts of the Golden Era, stood bravely against network TV and sponsors who did not fit her principles, was blasted for her dysfunctional relationship with her daughter after Carrie had become a Star for her role in the cultural phenomenon Star Wars, and publicly reconciled when Carrie Fisher presented her mother with a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2015.

Reynolds was born in El Paso, Texas, 1932, to a ditch-digger trying to get his family through the Great Depression. Her mother took in laundry to help make ends meet, and the family moved to Southern California seeking greater opportunities. Debbie was active in the Girl Scouts. On a whim, she entered the 1948 Miss Burbank beauty contest and was as surprised as anyone when she won. Two of the judges in the contest were film scouts, both of whom wanted the newly discovered beauty for their studio. The Warner Bros scout won the toss and she stayed with the studio for two years. When Warner’s stopped making musicals, she moved to MGM. In 1952, she starred in Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly, who she credited with making her a Star.

One of the biggest marriages in Hollywood was between Debbie and singer/heartthrob Eddie Fisher. In addition to Carrie, the couple had a son Todd Fisher, named for Eddie’s good friend producer Michael Todd. Michael was married to Debbie’s best friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor. When Liz was widowed after Michael died in a private airplane accident, Debbie and Eddie immediately went to console her, but Eddie’s consolation took a more intimate and physical form. Reynold’s and Fisher’s 1959 divorce was very public and painful, although Debbie admitted understanding being thrown over “for the most beautiful woman in the world”, she and Liz eventually reconciled. Liz dumped Eddie in 1964 after carrying on an affair with Richard Burton since 1962.

Debbie was nominated for Best Actress for starring in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). The Debbie Reynolds Show was a hit for NBC-TV during the 1969-70 season, but she left the show because the network would not promise to disallow cigarette advertising for her show. Debbie’s second husband, shoe retailer Harry Karl, along with daughter Carrie that year in a revival of Irene, and Debbie went on to have a successful revue in Las Vegas.
Carrie Fisher starred as Princess Leia in
Star Wars (1977) as well as The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, was published in 1987 and adapted to the big screen starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in 1990. The story dealt with drug addiction and rehab, as well as relations with her self-absorbed mother. In 2001, Ms. Fisher wrote a television film, These Old Broads, which starred Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, and Debbie Reynolds (the story includes scenes of Debbie and Liz’s characters taking shots at a common ex-husband). Fisher appeared in The Force Awakens (2015), the first installment in a new Star Wars trilogy, and had completed shooting her role in the second installment which is due for release in 2017. While returning from a European book tour on December 23, 2016, Carrie Fisher suffered a heart attack fifteen minutes before landing in Los Angeles. She died four days later, on December 27 at UCLA Medical Center at the age of 60.

Debbie Reynolds was at the home of son Todd Fisher discussing funeral arrangements for Carrie on December 28 when she suffered a severe stroke. She died that afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at the age of 84. According to her son, her last words were “I want to be with Carrie”. A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6654 Hollywood Blvd honors Debbie Reynolds’ work in Motion Pictures.

Categories
Old Time Radio

Doris Day

Doris Day, one of the most influential and prolific actresses to ever grace the silver screen, was born Doris Mary Ann Von Kapplehoff to a immigrated German family in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1924. As a child, she was always a playful little girl, wanting what other girls wanted, which was to become a typical ballerina. She loved to dance, sometimes dancing by herself, for hours at a time, but soon her dreams of becoming a dancer were shattered by a horrific automobile accident. Grace smiled upon her again when, at the age of 16, Doris discovered that she could sing, and sing WELL!

Doris DayDoris began singing with local bands and on one separate singing occasion, Doris met her first husband, Al Jorden, whom she married shortly afterwards in 1941, at the age of 17. The marriage was short-lived because of Jorden’s obsession with violence. In 1943, the couple divorced. After another failed marriage, that did not last even a year, Doris’ agent urged her to take a screen test for motion pictures. It was the mega movie moguls Warner Brothersthat caught on quick to Doris’ talent, and their pursuit for the perfect face for their pictures was well worth the journey. After a lofty contract signing, Doris went on to star in over 20 films from 1948 to 1953. Some of her most famous films of this period were Calamity Jane, Lucky Me, My Dream is Yours, The Man Who knew Too Much, and Pillow Talk.

Her soaring movie career helped her sell her musical album, and further increased her stardom. It was during this time that she met Marty Melcher, her future husband. They were wed in 1951, and in 1953, they adopted a child. Doris’ success took her through over 50 smash movie hits, her own show, countless other television appearances, and gold records. Even at the young age of 75, Doris runs a foundation for the proper care of Animals in the town of Carmel, California.

Categories
Fibber McGee and Molly Great Gildersleeve

Fibber and Molly Go To Gildersleeve’s Halloween Party

FMcG&MThe holiday at the end of October was actually the lead into All Saints Day, November 1, and All Souls Day, Nov 2. The religious feast is a time to remember those Saints who don’t already have a feast day of their own, and then to remember the recently departed. In ancient times they often said Feast when what they really meant was sitting in church for hours praying. Not an appealing prospect for kids who realized that the harvest was in and there would be precious few nice days left before the hardships of winter set in.

To help burn off some of this youthful energy, wise parents and community leaders began to encourage the celebration of All Hallows Eve, what we now know as Halloween. What they may not have counted on was that the kids are not the only one’s who enjoy an evening of autumnal merriment.

It is hard to find a supposed grown up who is a bigger kid than Wistful Vista’s own Fibber McGee. In 1939, Fibber and Molly receive an invitation to the party next door at the Gildersleeve’s house.

For those of you keeping track of Beloved Characters, The Great Gildersleeve first appeared before the Johnson’s Wax microphone in June of 1939, when Howard Peary appeared as a dentist treating Fibber’s tooth ache. The dentist in the episode is Dr. Wilber Gildersleeve, sowe can see that writer Don Quinn was still developing the character (some have raised the theory that Dr. Wilbur may in fact have been Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve’s brother).

By Halloween, Throckmorton had established himself as the McGee’s pompous neighbor. If there was anything that the Fibber McGee and Molly crew loved as much as watching Fibber go through the motions as town busy body, it was deflating pomposity. As we will see, sometimes even the most pompous can get the last laugh on Fibber.

great-gildersleeveThe evening starts out innocently enough, with Fibber enjoying a fine cigar, which Gildersleeve must have meant for his guests to enjoy. After all, he left them sitting in the bottom of his dresser drawer where anyone could find them! The evening is filled with traditional Halloween games and activities, like Mrs. Uppington telling fortunes and Harlow Wilcox telling a ghost story (you get three guesses to determine whether or not the ghost walked across a floor treated with Johnson’s Glo Coat).

Halloween would not be complete without a prank or two. What is Fibber doing in Gildy’s garage? Surely it is harmless fun… Wait, isn’t Gildy’s car at the mechanics? Where is Fibber’s car? Would some one have moved it off the street for safe keeping? Listen here to learn more :

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Fibber-391024-Gildersleeves-Halloween-Party-OTRCAT.com.mp3

 

Categories
Big Band Musical Old Time Radio

Big Band and Swing Bands in Old Time Radio

bob crosby & margaret whiting with modernariesMusic has always been an indispensable element of radio broadcast. The station which would eventually become WHA, Wisconsin Public Radio, began its first music broadcasts as early as 1917. It is not surprising that we have a number of terrific music programs on the shelves here at OTRCat, which showcase a number of different musical styles. If we were to choose a single style of music to typify Old Time Radio, that style would have to be Big Band Jazz.

The origins of Jazz are muddied and complicated by both the passage of time and the fact that they were the result of many influences coming together. The most vital elements were the melding of the syncopated rhythms of Africa with the melodic traditions of European music.

When the slaves were freed after the Civil War it meant artistic freedom as well as economic. As more blacks sought fulfillment through artistic expression, they explored the remembered tribal rhythms, combining them with the melodicism and “square rhythms” of the European tradition. These musicians abandoned the “Oom-pah Oom-pah” styling from European courts and peasant villages.

rag timeThe newly freed musicians explored beats, melodies and harmonies that were more “ragged”. Ragtime musicians were among the first to achieve financial success from their music. Success brought imitation as well as innovation.

As troops demobilized in the port of New Orleans after the Spanish American War, several military bands dumped their instruments on the local market. Black musicians were quick to purchase these instruments, although they often had to teach themselves how to play. This self taught ethos fit well into ragtime improvisation, but the surplus brass and woodwind sounded best when played in conjunction with other instruments.

new orleans

The loose structure of Jazz needed some discipline to avoid becoming a caterwaul. Bands came together and “arranged” their music by rehearsing the pieces over and over again until they felt and sounded “right”. The membership of these bands changed regularly, sometimes weekly. Success depended upon musicians who could quickly fit in and bandleaders who could tame these disparate elements. This constant personnel change enforced the change which would become the hallmark of Jazz.

White musicians quickly became enthused about the artistic freedom and possibilities of Jazz. They also brought a measure of formality and discipline to Jazz, at least to the extent that Jazz could be formalized or disciplined. One of their greatest contributions  greater formality and structure in arrangements. This structure would be beneficial as the bands became popular through the magic of radio.

 Big Band Music popularity came in two distinct phases, both of which worked remarkably well for radio play. Beginning in the mid-twenties, Big Bands, typically 10-25 pieces, began to dominate popular music. This Sweet Jazz period was highly melodic, often quite danceable, but far too disciplined to truly be called Jazz. Some of the best surviving OTR examples from this period include, Live at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, and the Cocoanut Grove Ambassadors.

paul whiteman

The disciplined approach made for some terrific music, but the enthusiasm of jazzmen for their craft is hard to contain, especially as more instrumentalists became bandleaders. The clarinets of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet stand out as examples. Improvements in electronic technology also gave vocalists a chance to come to the fore. Even the strongest human voices strain to be heard over the volume of a band, but through amplification, crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby could be heard in front of a swinging band, and pretty girl singers could be appreciated for more than their looks.

From the time it began to separate from Sweet Jazz, Swing was music for youth. There was little better than attending a concert performance of a favorite band, but if that was not possible, a dance party to records or even the radio would have been a welcome substitute. Like America itself, Swing Music “grew up” during WWII.

swing-dance-vintage

The War had a combination of effects on popular music. It concentrated some of its most ardent fans in troop camps and gave performers, both in and outside of the service, a ready and enthusiastic audience. Many bands experienced personnel shortages as players were drafted while those who held together found their popularity soaring. Big Band Swing became the de facto sound of the USO.

The War wasn’t all good for Swing Music. One of music’s most shining lights, Glenn Miller became a casualty of the War. Many bands folded when members joined the service. For most of the War, musicians were on strike against the recording industry. This gave even more importance to individual vocalists. Finally, listener tastes changed after the War.

Fortunately, the music lives on  thanks to the great recordings of Old Time Radio!

 

Categories
Fred Allen WWII

How Hitler Helped Create Allen’s Alley

fred allen 1949The title of this should not be interpreted with any insinuation that Fred Allen may have been a Nazi. Like most Americans of his generation, the more Fred and the rest of the entertainment industry learned about Hitler and his schemes, the more dedicated they became to pledging all of their professional and personal resources in defeating Hitler’s threat to humanity. Fred Allen was one of America’s great humorists and blessed with a marvelous sense of the absurd. There were plenty of absurdities to go around in Fred’s life. First of all, his name was John Florence Sullivan, not Fred Allen. The path to becoming Fred was often an exercise in absurdity. John Florence was born into aching poverty which was the lot of many Boston Irish at the end of the nineteenth century. His father was a bookbinder. Between the competitive trade and the heart crushing loss of his wife (to pneumonia, when the boy was only three), the senior Sullivan was often in his cups, and unable to adequately provide for two young sons. Raising the boy was left to his maternal Aunt Lizzie. In addition to the Sullivans, Lizzie was in the care of a husband who had been crippled by lead poisoning, a pair of spinster sisters, and a brother. Allen would later write “Aunt Lizzie had her hands full, and not with money”. Young John Florence loved her dearly. John F. Sullivan’s path to show business (and becoming Fred Allen) is a fascinating story in its own right. What is important to this discussion, is that Fred Allen’s eventual celebrity was simply a trade to him. Like many successful tradesmen who rose from poverty, Allen had an ingrained conservatism which prevented his taking risks that might endanger his status. By the mid-1930s, Fred Allen had achieved remarkable success, and was arguably at the top of his game. He was one of the comics who successfully made the transition from vaudeville to radio, and in 1934 , his sponsor increased his presence with an hour long format, the Fred Allen “Hour of Smiles”, which was retooled as “Town Hall Tonight” the following season. The Town Hall Tonight format was a great fit for Fred, both professionally and artistically. The program was largely built around amateur talent, which was a reminder of Allen’s early vaudeville experience. He also gathered a company of regular players, the Mighty Allen Art Players. In addition to the weekly play, a regular feature of Town Hall Tonight was the weekly “Newsreel”. The Newsreel showcased a series of absurd characters who would comment on important and obscure news items. The Newsreel feature outlived the sponsor, and in the fall of 1940, Town Hall Tonight became Texaco Star Theater. A new sponsor has a right to make changes, but this chafed against Allen’s “if it works don’t fix it” attitude. The Newsreel remained in place until the 1942 season, when War related hard times caught up with Texaco. Because of Wartime shortages, there was less gasoline to sell, and therefore less profit for Texaco to make. Rather than abandon its successful radio presence, the show was cut to a half hour. This left little time for the Newsreel. Fred, whose sense of satire was the driving force of the Newsreel, created Allen’s Alley to replace it. Fred Allen’s Alley is second in Fred Allen’s legacy, only to the Benny-Allen Feud. The recurring characters who populated the Alley became landmarks in the American consciousness. Allen’s Alley was created in large part because of Wartime accommodations, but it is a good bet that the Fascists would never appreciate the underlying American-ness of the Alley’s residents. The Yiddish mannerisms of Mrs. Nussbaum (created by Minerva Pious), the drunken slowness of Socrates Mulligan (Charles Cantor), and the overenthusiastic Southernness of Senator Beauregard Claghorn (Kenny Delmar) would raise politically-correct hackles today. However, the characters were never criticized as being anti Jewish, anti Irish, or anti Southern. One of the longest lasting residents of the Alley was Allen Reed‘s Falstaff Openshaw. Falstaff was an enthusiastic if less than appreciated poet, whose often painful-to-hear rhymes were the close to a visit to Allen’s Alley. A number of factors finally doomed the Alley, including competition for TV and the NBC Sunday Night radio lineup suffering from the CBS Talent raids and ABC’s suddenly popular quiz-shows, especially Bert Parks’ Stop The Music. The ultimate end was Fred’s health; after the 1949 season he took a year off for his hypertension, and would never host another old time radio program.

Categories
Murder By Experts Old Time Radio Sealed Book

Murder They Wrote

Have you ever tried to ask your grandparents what joys in life did they treasure during their time when they were your age? Surely, they would reply either in jest or in a serious manner, depending on the tone of your question. Now, try asking about their favorite radio shows they often listened to during their younger years. Chances are, they would tell you a handful of radio series starred by some of the most popular celebrities in Hollywood at that time. During the golden age of radio, from 1920s through 1950s, television series were quite the rage and there were a lot of really good to excellent programs, which either lasted long enough or went off the air in an untimely manner and completely went into oblivion.

John-Dickson-Carr-1One such example was Murder by Experts, a mystery program on Mutual (or MBS) that premiered in 1949. The show was produced and directed by a couple of men, David Kogan and Robert A. Arthur, who also dished out The Mysterious Traveler (as well as The Strange Dr. Weird and The Sealed Book) on radio. It featured gruesome tales and dark stories each week. Each of the featured stories, penned by neophytes, was carefully chosen by distinguished members of the Mystery Writers of America. Two of the prolific genre writers of the time, John Dickson Carr and Brett Halliday, were taking turns in the hosting and narrating jobs of the show. Carr did the hosting job on the show’s debut episode on June 13, 1949 until March 13, 1950. Halliday took over the job on March 20, 1950 until the show’s last episode on December 17, 1951.

maurice2Local New York talents such as Maurice Tarplin, Lawson Zerbe, Leslie Woods, Gertrude Warner, Santos Ortega and Larry Haines were some of the brilliant radio personalities tapped to star on the show which was produced in New York. Unlike many other mystery anthologies of that time, Murder by Experts did not turn to gimmickry to draw audience, making it one of the best radio shows of any genre. As a testament to its true worth, the show bagged The Edgar Allan Poe Award (the ‘Edgar’) for best mystery radio program. Of the series’ five dozen or more episodes, only 13-15 of them, quite unfortunately, were salvaged. Those who were lucky few to get those broadcasts confessed that it was worth the time listening to and indeed worth preserving to keep as a treasure.

Categories
Dragnet

Supermoon Sunday: Dragnet’s “Werewolf” Old Time Radio Episode

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With the Supermoon coming on Sunday, we remember one of our all time favorite werewolf stories. Dragnet‘s “Werewolf” aired June 17, 1949.

The women are left half-dead, victims of robbery and horrible attacks. “The Werewolf” as dubbed by the local papers, was a maniac that attacked, beat, and robbed 18 victims. The attacks are so brutal leaving the women in the hospital with horrible wounds, that Joe Friday fears the Werewolf will kill…and he’s right.

Dragnet11

Joe Friday makes plans to have decoy 14 policewomen walk around between 3:00 A.M. 5:00 A.M. in the morning when the Werewolf was known to prowl on waitresses leaving work. After the werewolf is not caught with the decoys, the police are grasping for clues.

A set of stolen licence plates during the night leads Joe Friday to the car used in the crimes. Later a woman is attacked taking a letter to the mailbox and describes a large, hairy man that tried to grab her. When a young mother of three is found dead in an empty lot, a huge dragnet is called around the city to find the murderer.

Will they find the “The Werewolf” before more women are attacked and murdered?

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Dragnet-490617-E003-The-Werewolf-OTRCAT.com.mp3

For more werewolf action, see the Old Time Radio Dog Collection.

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Ilona Massey Old Time Radio Top Secret

Top Secret and Ilona Massey

Massey, IlonaIlona Massey was born in Budapest in 1910, while it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trained as an opera singer, she worked as a dress maker and theater singer to save money for the trip to Vienna where she joined an Opera Company. Eventually she landed a screen test in London and was offered a Hollywood contract. She appeared in a couple Nelson Eddy operettas, and was billed as “the new Dietrich.” Her acting talent was not quite strong enough, and her soprano voice too light to live up to the hype. She would be called upon to play the alluring sophisticated beauty in Thriller pictures. Notable are Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) with Lon Chaney Jr. and Love Happy (1949) with the Marx Brothers. Ilona Massey‘s character in Love Happy, the spy Madame Egelichi, was the inspiration for the Steve Canyon comic character Madame Lynx. Steve Canyon artist Milton Caniff went so far as to hire Massey to model for him.

Madame Egelichi/Madame Lynx may have helped lead Massey to her one Radio starring role, as Baroness Karin Geza in Top Secret. Supposedly the character and her stories were inspired by a “personal friend” of Ms Massey’s who worked as an Allied Spy during WWII and its aftermath.

The Baroness takes the audience around the globe in her assignments. In a departure from the usual femme fatale formula the Baroness doesn’t depend solely upon her considerable feminine charms in her espionage/counter-espionage radio work. When it is necessary she can get as physical as any male spy to defend her secrets, or her life.

Her work on Top Secret mixed well with Massey’s political posture. Her Austrio-Hungarian upbringing had brought home to her the evils of Communism and Fascism. She became an American Citizen in 1946, and was seen protesting Soviet Premier Khrushchev’s visit to the UN in 1956.

Ilona Massey also made guest appearances in various old time radio shows including Good News, The Railroad Hour, and Screen Guild Theater.