Monday, December 31, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 31: The Shadow

Here we are - the end of 2018 and the end of my OTR holiday theme month. What better way to end the year than with our friend The Shadow! In the January 1, 1939 episode "The Man Who Murdered Time", Lamong (Bill Johnstone) and Margo (Agnes Moorehead) are taught in a temporal loop as New Year's Eve repeats itself again and again. Lamont's great mental powers allow him to avoid repeating the same events over and over, but it's a strain on his mind; can he find the person responsible for replaying the day's events before his resolve fades?

You can hear "The Man Who Murdered Time" on here.

I hope you enjoy your New Year's Eve celebrations today and I look forward to interactions on the blog in the New Year. 2019 will definitely see some changes in how this blog functions...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 30: Lights Out

Unfortunately, we don't know too much about what the show Lights Out was like when Wyllis Cooper was the writer/producer. We have a lot of shows from when Arch Oboler led the series, but precious little of Cooper's. We do, of course, have most of Cooper's show Quiet, Please intact. And we have a very interesting Lights Out episode from December 22, 1937 called "Uninhabited."

Following the first World War, a French soldier, Australian soldier and black American soldier share a train cabin together. The three men have never met before, yet they have a strange sense of deja vu... three men journeying together...

You can hear "Uninhabited" on here.

Come back tomorrow for the end of this theme month (and 2018!).

Saturday, December 29, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 29: Jack Benny

I've said many times that I enjoy the Jack Benny Program. One of my absolute favourite broadcasts is the New Year's Eve broadcast from December 31, 1939. In this episode, Jack is stood up by his date after he's gone on at considerable length to his friends about what an amazing woman she is. The eventual reveal of who his date is leads to one fantastic laugh, but over all Jack cuts a very pathetic figure in this episode. Alone on New Year's, Jack ends up at home. Seeing how lonesome his boss is, Rochester cancels his plans to spend the night supporting Jack. Awwwwww...

This is a fantastic program; listen to it at here.

We're almost done the theme month, come back tomorrow!

Friday, December 28, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 28: Inner Sanctum Mysteries

Yesterday we heard from The Mysterious Traveler, so here with another New Year's-themed program is Inner Sanctum Mysteries and the episode "Between Two Worlds" from December 20, 1948. On New Year's Eve, the police hear the story of a repentant criminal who didn't want to die without doing one good deed and, through supernatural means, got his chance.

You can hear "Between Two Worlds" on here.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 27: The Mysterious Traveler

Okay, we've had a lot of good warm-hearted Christmas shows with a bit of comedy mixed in up until now, but now we're nearing New Year's and radio shows were a little more cold-blooded about that holiday. Take, for instance, "New Year's Nightmare", an episode of The Mysterious Traveler from January 5, 1947. It features a man who loses a year's worth of memories and finds himself married to a different woman. What with the amnesia aspect, it's very much like an episode of Inner Sanctum Mysteries, which resorted to such devices pretty often.

You can hear "New Year's Nightmare" on here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 26: Mister President

Happy Boxing Day!

A short-lived show called Mister President would feature Edward Arnold in dramatic tales where he would be called "Mister President", challenging the listeners to guess which real US President he was portraying before the revelation in the closing minutes. This kind of restricted what kind of stories the series could tell, but at Christmas time they broke with the show's normal format for something quite different - a fiction about one of the Wise Men. The story is called "The Man at the Gate of the World" and while it takes some liberties with the Gospels, it certainly means well.

Mister President isn't as well-archived as the other shows I'm featuring this month, but I found the episode on this webpage here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 25: The Greatest Story Ever Told

Merry Christmas!

After World War II there was an increased focus on Christianity in US culture which spilled over on to the radio as Christian groups organized programming such as Family Theater and The Greatest Story Ever Told. The latter program began in 1947 and would retell stories from the Bible in the style of contemporary dramas. It was so popular that it became a book (a book based on a radio show based on the Bible, which is a book) and later on a film which wasn't too well-regarded.

The adaptation of the story of Christ's birth was told over several weeks on the program, so I've brought them all together here from You can hear "And Her Name Was Mary" here, "Blessed Among Women" here, "Go and Be Counted" here, "No Room at the Inn" here and "Flight into Egypt" here.

I hope you're having a marvelous Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 24: The Whistler

The Whistler was a program which offered interesting thriller stories where there would be a sudden reversal in the closing moments. The most frequent format of an episode of The Whistler involves a person committing murder or a robbery and thinking they've gotten away with it, then discovering a huge oversight in the closing minute.

The Whistler may not seem like a program suited to the holidays, but the show I've chosen, "Letter from Cynthia" from December 25, 1949 manages a delicate balancing act. As always, there is a surprise reveal at the end. It involves a medical intern whose career was ruined when his best friend let him be framed for drunk driving. When his friend turns up at the hospital where he works, he realizes he has a chance for revenge.

You can hear "Letter from Cynthia" at here.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 23: The Saint

Vincent Price was perfect on the radio. For a few years he starred in The Adventures of the Saint on radio, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris. The episode I've chosen is identified in the file name as "The Nineteen Santa Clauses" from December 24, 1947, but it sure sounds like the December 24, 1950 episode "Santa Claus Is No Saint" to me. Maybe they have the same script?

Anyway, the Saint dresses up as Santa Claus just in time for a serious case of mistaken identity as a wronged woman and a criminal both mistake the Saint for someone else. You can listen to it on here.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 22: Jack Benny

For this Saturday's episode of the Jack Benny Program I've chosen the December 8, 1946 episode. In this show, Jack goes shopping for Don Wilson's Christmas present but he can't quite make up his mind between plastic-tip shoelaces or metal-tip shoelaces. It was such a winning idea for the show that the writers basically recycled it every December from then on, simply replacing the shoelaces with a different product and depicting the clerk selling the item (played by Mel Blanc) increasingly angst-ridden from trying to satisfy Jack's whims.

You can listen to the episode on here.

Friday, December 21, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 21: The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe

I've never read Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels, but I've enjoyed listening to the radio show The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe which starred Sydney Greenstreet as the famous armchair sleuth. This Christmas-themed episode is called "The Slaughtered Santas" which may not sound very holiday-like but it's a good detective program. It first aired on December 22, 1950.

You can listen to "The Slaughtered Santas" on here.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 20: The Life of Riley

One of the first radio sitcoms I grew to enjoy was The Life of Riley, thanks to William Bendix's extremely likeable performance as Chester Riley (and also due to John Brown's Digby O'Dell character). My favourite Christmas episode of The Life of Riley is from December 24, 1948, in which Chester tries to convince his boss to deliver the Christmas bonuses which he and the other men are counting on. However, Chester's boss has no intention of doing that and turns Chester into his unwitting stooge.

You can hear the episode on here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 19: Suspense

When it comes to old-time radio, what do I like more than Jack Benny? Well, Suspense is one. But to craft a connection between the two shows, what could be better than the December 21, 1950 episode of Suspense: "A Christmas for Carol" starring Dennis Day! Like so many of the comedians who appeared on Suspense, Dennis was given a chance to demonstrate he could handle dramatic material and he does very well - I think it's hands-down the best Christmas show Suspense ever produced and in 20 years on the air they made quite a few.

You can listen to "A Christmas for Carol" at here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 18: The Man Who Came to Dinner

Man, how many times can I get Jack Benny on the blog this month? In a rare case of Jack Benny playing someone other than Jack Benny, on December 25, 1948, Jack took the lead role in a presentation of The Man Who Came to Dinner on the Hotpoint Holiday Hour. Now, he can't equal the great performance Monty Woolly gave in the 1942 film version, but Jack is really great. The dialogue is crackling good and the cast includes Charles Boyer, Gene Kelly, Dorothy McGuire, Gregory Peck, Rosalind Russell and Henry Fonda so yeah, it's got a pretty amazing pedigree! You can hear it on here.

Monday, December 17, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 17: Gunsmoke

Earlier I looked at a somber Christmas episode of Dragnet. Another radio program from the same era which also strived for realism was Gunsmoke, but their Christmas episodes are feel-good programs. And so it is with the one I've chosen from December 20, 1952. It features Marshal Matt Dillon (as played by William Conrad) trying to get home to Dodge City for Christmas by hitching a lift with a very taciturn man. As Dillon tells his new acquaintence what Christmas is like in Dodge he gradually begins to win the man's friendship.

You can hear the episode on here.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 16: Tarzan

Everyone wants to get in on the holiday spirit - even everyone's favourite problematic jungle hero! Tarzan presented the episode "Congo Christmas" on December 27, 1951. This one features moon worshipers trying to rise up against Christians just ahead of Christmas. Good thing Tarzan's there to make peace! You can listen to it on here.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 15: Jack Benny

It's Saturday, so that means I'm posting another episode of the Jack Benny Program! In this episode from December 24, 1939, Jack hosts another Christmas party at his house. The highlights include a visit from Jack's brother-in-law, who is constantly comparing Hollywood against Waukeegan and deciding the former comes up short. Rochester proves himself to be the show's MVP as he gets many of the episode's biggest laughs.

You can hear this episode on youtube here

Friday, December 14, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 14: The Adventures of the Falcon

One radio series which I haven't listened to often is The Adventures of the Falcon. The character is best known for the motion pictures he appeared in during the 1940s. Back when QR77 would run their "12 Days of Christmas", every year they would include the episode "The Unwelcome Christmas Present" from December 20, 1951. That was the only time QR77 ever played an episode of the Falcon and in all the years since then, I've only heard one other episode of the show.

And the thing is, it's pretty good so far as radio private eye programs go. In this episode, a man buys a fur coat for his girlfriend; the next thing he knows, criminals are trying to get the coat from him. It must surely be a stolen coat worth a fortune - but if that's the case, why do the department store appraisers identify the fur as worthless? You can listen to it on here.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 13: Our Miss Brooks

So far as radio sitcoms go, Our Miss Brooks was one of the most formulaic - just about every episode's misunderstanding which leads to increased complications followed the same flow - but it didn't matter because it was done well by a great cast of comic actors, particularly Eve Arden, Jeff Chandler and Gale Gordon.

There are few nice Christmas episodes of Our Miss Brooks, but my favourite is "The Magic Christmas Tree" from December 25, 1949, in which Miss Brooks purchases a Christmas tree which transforms people's personalities after they touch it. It's mostly an excuse for the cast to behave out-of-character, and that's reason enough. You can hear it on here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 12: Dragnet

Most of the Christmas radio programs I'm featuring are comedies or feature stories which are ultimately life-affirming and warmhearted. Something a bit stronger, however, is Jack Webb's show Dragnet. There are some very nice holiday episodes of Dragnet from over the years, but the one I've chosen to look at is a notorious episode called "A .22 Rifle for Christmas" from December 22, 1949. Two children disappear just ahead of Christmas. When one of the boys reappears, he has a tragic story to share about playing with the rifle his father bought him for Christmas.

This episode was not beloved by the NRA (to put it mildly). Like all Dragnet episodes, it's based on actual events; like most Dragnet episodes, it's grim and stark. But not entirely without heart. You can hear it at here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 11: Duffy's Tavern

The radio series Duffy's Tavern is an interesting one. Starring Ed Gardner as Archie, bartender at the titular pub, it had a lot of blue collar humour. Many of the laughs would come from the way Gardner would speak malapropisms. However, there's one Christmas episode which is played primarily for drama.

Called "Miracle on Third Avenue", the epsiode features Archie feeling downcast around the holidays. Then he meets a stranger played by Jeff Chandler who tries to show Archie what makes Christmas so special. It was first broadcast December 22, 1948 and you can hear it at here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 10: Miracle on 34th Street

While it was interesting that Lux Radio Theater adapted It's a Wonderful Life during the month of March, the film release of Miracle on 34th Street is even more astounding; it was released by 20th Century Fox in June, 1947! Knowing that a Christmas film was an odd choice for summertime viewing, the studio actually played down their own premise and simply let word of mouth generate the buzz; apparently it worked, because by the time Lux Radio Theater adapted it on December 22, 1947, the film was still playing in theatres!

This radio version is great, with Edmund Gwenn's marvelous voice a real treat. You can check it out at here.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 9: Truth or Consequences

Setting aside Information Please I'm not terribly interested in old radio game shows; winners and losers of 70 year old contests don't really matter to me. I'm not especially fond of Truth or Consequences either. It was a game show where the contestants were usually doomed to answer host Ralph Edwards' questions wrong and then perform some humiliating stunt. I really cannot stand Edwards' histrionic performance as the host. The series does nothing for me.

Except for one episode! On December 22, 1947, Edwards hosted a special Christmas program where he welcomed a bedridden veteran over the radio. In an excellent use of radio's ability to engage the listener's imagination, Edwards proceeds to whisk the veteran to his hometown as they had set up remote broadcast stations throughout the town in preparation. It's an immensely heartwarming program and one of the best ideas for a Christmas show in the history of radio.

You can hear the episode at here.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 8: Jack Benny

Yes, more Jack Benny! There will be a Jack Benny episode every Saturday during this theme month. He's my favourite, after all!

This time out I've chosen the December 25, 1938 episode of the Jack Benny Program. Jack hosts a Christmas party at his house and has a devious plan to upstage Phil Harris by dating Barbara Whitney, Phil's girlfriend. However, Phil upstages Jack by arriving with Jack's film co-star Joan Bennett as his date!

You can hear the episode on here.

Friday, December 7, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 7: It's a Wonderful Life

There are certain films which have become traditional holiday viewing in my family's household; back in the days when It's a Wonderful Life was in the public domain, my father bought a cheap copy as one of the first VHS tapes in our collection. It was my first exposure to film star James Stewart and director Frank Capra. In some ways the film isn't quite a Christmas movie - the main action of the film is set on Christmas, but the rest of the picture is made up of flashbacks from throughout George Bailey's life. But as it isn't entirely a Christmas film, I suppose that's why it was adapted for radio in the month of March!

Lux Radio Theater adapted It's a Wonderful Life on March 10, 1947, three months after it had debuted in theatres and brought back James Stewart & Donna Reed to reprise their film roles. Henry Travers wasn't present to reprise the role of Clarence the angel, but it's a pretty good radio adaptation - definitely far superior to the half-hour version done on Screen Director's Playhouse which doesn't have anywhere near enough time to tell the story effectively.

You can listen to the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life on here.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 6: My Friend Irma

Marie Wilson's portrayal of the titular Irma in My Friend Irma must be one of the great prototypical 'dumb blondes' of fiction. Wilson portrayed the character on the radio, television and in film. Unfortunately, she was upstaged in her own movies thanks to the presence of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis.

Wilson was supported by a first-rate radio cast, including John Brown as Irma's no-good boyfriend Al and Cathy Lewis as Irma's sensible best friend Jane. In this Christmas episode from December 20, 1948, Irma is eager to celebrate the holidays with her friends, only to find Al, Jane and the rest have other plans.

You can listen to the episode at here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 5: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Norman Corwin is very highly regarded among old-time radio fans, but if you aren't interested in radio drama you've probably never heard his name. There were basically two kinds of scripts he wrote: highly patriotic scripts about American values, and deeply silly scripts which often played out in rhyme. Such a script is "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas", which was broadcast several times over the years with various different casts.

The plot involves the greatest fiends in Hades deciding to "bump off" Santa Claus so that they can bring an end to all the goodness of Christmas. The rhyming dialogue is often apologetic for the extreme lengths it goes to in order to complete a rhyme.

The version of "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas" found at is dated as being from December 24, 1942. You can listen to it here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 4: Phil Harris & Alice Faye

My first exposure to the Phil Harris/Alice Faye Show was through a version of their annual Christmas program. Virtually every Christmas they would use the same script and it was a pretty great one. As you can hear in the first version from December 21, 1947, the plot involves Phil and Alice hiring an actor to portray Santa Claus: Jack Benny himself!

It's a very funny episode, not only because Jack Benny is excellent, but for Elliot Lewis' turn as Frankie Remley, who is disgusted with Phil for hiring an "impostor" to play Santa Claus. Eventually, after Jack Benny went from NBC to CBS, he stopped appearing in the Christmas shows and Jack's friend Andy Devine took his place. But you can't replace Jack; the idea of the stingy, miserly Jack portraying Santa Claus is innately funny.

You can hear the 1947 version of this story at here.

Monday, December 3, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 3: Dark Fantasy

Scott Bishop's series Dark Fantasy is a bit of an oddity. We have practically the entire series intact. It was a kind of low-budget horror series, but with very expressive writing. I have no idea why Scott Bishop didn't go on to greater things in radio, his scripts were well above average. At any rate, "The House of Bread" from December 26, 1941 was his Christmas-themed episode of the series, in which Bishop himself is a character in the story, seeking to learn where to find the titular "House of Bread."

You can listen to "The House of Bread" at here.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 2: A Christmas Carol

No Christmas season would be complete without Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I grew up enjoying the 1951 film version, Scrooge, but I believe the single best adaptation of the tale occurred on Orson Welles' Campbell Playhouse on December 24, 1939. It features Orson as the narrator with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge and Welles' Mercury Players in the other roles.

Lionel Barrymore made his performance as Scrooge an annual tradition on the radio for many years and this time, with the best radio players in the medium, it comes off amazingly well. You can listen to it at here.

More OTR holiday programming tomorrow!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

OTR Holiday Month Day 1: Jack Benny

I've often devoted the month of October to a day-by-day blogging exercise where I look back on one old-time radio episode per day, all themed for Halloween. This year, I'm going to blog every day of December instead and look at shows related to Christmas and the surroundings holidays.

I love Christmas old-time radio shows. My interest in OTR began when I would listen to "Those Old Radio Shows" on QR77, which used to be broadcast on every night of the year (currently they broadcast on Fridays & Saturdays). When I first became a listener the shows were taken from a pretty limited library. Each year before Christmas, they would run "The 12 Days of Christmas" from Dec. 14-25 and the first program of each block would be a Christmas episode of an OTR show. Some of them were programs which didn't otherwise exist in their library.

As I've noted before, initally I didn't care for comedy programs and I'd often turn off my radio when one came on, but during "The 12 Days" I would listen to the Christmas shows. Eventually I developed a better appreciation for radio comedy. And so, my hope is that during this 31-day blogging exercise I might get you to try out a radio program you might not otherwise sample.

As Jack Benny became my favourite old-time radio comedian, it's Jack Benny who I'm beginning with. On December 12, 1937, The Jack Benny Program featured Jack and Mary Livingstone shopping for presents. It's not the greatest episode in the series as there were still a few kinks being worked out, but it's a very snappy episode. More to the point, it established what became a tradition - an episode of Jack going shopping and being frustrated by unhelpful store staff, with various jokes about how cheap Jack is. You can listen to the episode on Youtube here.

More seasonal OTR tomorrow!